A nonpartisan race for Monroe County School Board’s District 5 pits incumbent Sue Woltanski against local prosecutor and former educator Alexandria Suarez. Voters will have the chance to cast ballots in the race during the Aug. 23 primary.

Recently, the Parental Rights in Education bill that passed through the Florida legislature last session took effect July 1. Penned into law in late March, proponents say the bill reinforces parents’ fundamental rights to make decisions regarding the upbringing of their children. The bill also prohibits classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade. 

Opponents to the law, commonly referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay,” bill say it singles out LGBQT+ students or children with LGBQT+ parents and makes school less safe for children. 

The Keys Weekly asked the candidates: What kind of effect do you see the Parental Rights & Education bill having on the way students are taught?


Florida’s Parental Rights in Education law requires that “classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade three, or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.” It also ensures that schools don’t discourage or prohibit parental involvement or notification of decisions affecting student’s mental, emotional, physical or well-being. It protects parents’ fundamental right to the upbringing of their children. This second part of the law actually protects students because it puts a stop to schools taking gender self-declaration at face value without proper medical diagnosis. To be fair, there are parents who dismiss the idea of gender transition, irrespective of the grief that will come to their dysphoric children. But in most cases, parents aren’t being phobic; they simply have a right to know whether their child is encouraged to begin what could become a painful and risky process that can leave the child scarred and infertile. In some cases, this may be a price worth paying to address a gender dysphoric child’s suffering. But in other cases, it’s not.  School is for teaching academics and trade, not practicing medicine or undermining parents.


Monroe County Schools do not teach lessons regarding sexual orientation or gender identity in elementary school. They never have. Our teachers follow Florida’s standards and use state approved curriculum, so parents will see little change in the classroom. If parents have concerns about classroom instruction, they should use any of the various ways available to them to reach out to their child’s teacher.

Public schools must protect all students so they can learn and thrive in a safe environment. Parents want their kids to learn to treat others with dignity and respect. Our students come from diverse family backgrounds and all families (whether it is two moms, a mom and dad, a single parent, or any other makeup) deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. I expect our instructors will continue to model that dignity and respect and warmly welcome all students from all types of families into their classroom, creating a safe, engaging learning environment so that all our children can succeed.

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Jim McCarthy is a Western New Yorkers who escaped the snow and frigid temperatures for warm living by the water. A former crime & court reporter and city editor for two Western New York newspapers, Jim has been honing his craft since he graduated from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 3-plus years in the Keys, Jim has enjoyed connecting with the community. “One of my college professors would always preach to be curious,” he said. “Behind every person is a story that’s unique to them, and one worth telling. As writers, we are the ones who paint the pictures in the readers minds of the emotions, the struggles and the triumphs.” Jim is past president of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club, which is composed of energetic members who serve the community’s youth and older populations. Jim is a sports fanatic who loves to watch football, mixed martial arts and golf. He loves to hit the links and play some softball with his Make A Play team. He also enjoys time with family (he's expecting a little boy in October).