Students suffering from anxiety, bullying and discrimination need options

Matthew Ladner

Recently, the hashtag #ilovepublicschools trended on Twitter, but perhaps not in the way intended.

My intent in sharing a sample of what happened when public school students and parents began weighing in is not to bash public schools. I am a public school graduate, my mother worked in the public school system, and all three of the Ladner children have attended public schools. Many people do, in fact, love their public schools, and you can see evidence of that if you visit the hashtag.

But you also will hear from people who are miserable in their public schools.

Several of the #ilovepublicschools participants wrote about being bullied because of their sexual preference or disability status.

Again, I do not present these examples as a gratuitous attack on public schools, but rather to make the point that a great many families desperately need new schooling situations.

A scroll through #ilovepublicschools makes it clear just how profoundly misguided the current media campaign in Florida is to persuade companies not to make donations to scholarship programs. Students suffering from bullying, anxiety and depression often desperately need a new school. LGBTQ students are disproportionately the victims of such bullying. Tax credit scholarships are given to students in an entirely neutral fashion, and LGBTQ students are now using tax credit scholarships to attend schools that work for them.

Students like Elijah Robinson, for instance, who was featured on redefinED in October.

A successful campaign to dissuade companies from donating to the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program will defund the scholarships of thousands of desperate students, students in situations like Elijah’s, and indeed, Elijah himself. If anyone can tell me Elijah Robinson should have been denied the opportunity to attend The Foundation Academy after having been relentlessly bullied at his previous school, the comment section awaits your explanation.

I fear there are people in our society so filled with hate for education choice programs that they would look Elijah Robinson in the eye and tell him, “You can no longer attend The Foundation Academy because of the decisions of unrelated third parties. Go back to the school whose students and staff drove you to the brink of suicide.”

I sincerely hope, dear reader, that you are not one of those people. If you are, I hope that God will shine a light into your soul that will allow you to rediscover your humanity.

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12 comments

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Tim February 10, 2020 - 3:29 pm

Good, then you’ll agree that religious institutions should not discriminate. If, however, they do then they shouldn’t receive funds through a state program. Religion was used as an excuse to deny services to African-Americans. When institutions are allowed to discriminate it sends a message that bullying is okay. Wouldn’t you agree with all this?

Patrick R. Gibbons
Patrick R. Gibbons February 10, 2020 - 4:06 pm

Hi Tim. Seventy percent of the students on the Tax Credit Scholarship, (which is funded through private corporation contributions) are black or Hispanic. Do you know of any Civil Rights movement that accomplished their goals by throwing black and Hispanic students under the bus? At any rate, this article was to serve as a reminder that even though public schools take all students – within their assigned zone, or so long as the parent has elected to enroll under the two-week open enrollment window, or that do not have any disability or emotional problems the school can’t address – that discrimination, bullying and harassment still occurs.

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Tim February 10, 2020 - 5:25 pm

I see you didn’t answer my question. I wonder why.

Matthew Ladner
Matthew Ladner February 10, 2020 - 6:59 pm

Tim-

I think we can both agree that Elijah was discriminated against in a horrific fashion. Is there an effort ongoing in Florida to strip public schools like the one Elijah attended of public funding? I’m in favor of Elijah keeping the funding he needs to attend Foundation Academy and I’m afraid that the sort of discrimination that Elijah faced is so horribly common that we would be forced to shut down swathes of the public education system if we denied funding to schools where it occurs. See for instance https://www.stompoutbullying.org/get-help/about-bullying-and-cyberbullying/lgbtq-bullying

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Tim February 10, 2020 - 7:59 pm

Matthew,
Name for me a single public school in Florida where it is a stated policy to kick out a student who is LGBTQ. You cannot and that’s not the issue. I don’t disagree that a student was bullied. However, I think we should both agree that any institution that has in its policies a clause that excludes LGBTQ students is sending a message that discrimination is only. With all due respect to your colleague, Ron Mattus, I don’t see how he can support a program that provides money from a state program to institutions that discriminate. “Religion“ was a reason for supporting segregation 60 years ago at the expense of people of color. Now “religion” is an excuse to kick LGBTQ students out of various private schools receiving public funds. It is indefensible. You’re on the wrong side here and the sooner that SUFS admits this the better. Let these “religious” schools discriminate on their own dime, not with money funneled to them by policies made by my government!

Matthew Ladner
Matthew Ladner February 10, 2020 - 9:22 pm

The Florida legislature can choose to intervene in the admissions policies of schools any time they choose whether there is a choice program in place or not. I live in a distant patch of cactus so I don’t get a vote in the matter. Now, you’ll have to forgive my noticing the double standard you are employing- admission policies are not the only type of discrimination faced by these students, nor the most serious one. This isn’t simply a case of “a” student being bullied. The link I supplied above reports that 9 out of 10 of LGBTQ students report having been harassed over the last year and a third report assault. A realistic and actionable remedy for students in this situation is to give them the power to exit when they need it. This is the remedy that Elijah availed himself to- the public school where the staff told him to “ignore” being bullied lost funding, and he found a good fit school among people who didn’t feel the need to brutalize him. He would not have been able to do this without the tax credit program. These students and families are the ones with lived experience in this, they know the circumstances and their own breaking points, I don’t believe there is any realistic replacement for an individual level exit option, and it is precisely what an indiscriminate reduction in funding for this program will achieve.

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Tim February 10, 2020 - 9:32 pm

You are simply avoiding my question. Let me make this simple.

Do you currently support ANY school receiving funding through a government program that allows it to discriminate against a student because they are black? You would say no. Of course.

Do you currently support ANY school receiving funding through a government program that allows it to discriminate against a student because they are gay? You have to say yes because you help advocate for a program (SUFS) that provides money through a state-created program to “Christian” schools that openly tolerate banning homosexuals, or students whose parents are homosexual.

What specifically is the difference? We don’t choose our race and we don’t choose our sexual orientation. Do you not see that when a government funded entity discriminates in this way, it too is sending a message that bullying is okay?

Matthew Ladner
Matthew Ladner February 10, 2020 - 9:56 pm

There couldn’t be a much clearer message that bullying is okay than marching bullied students back to the schools in which they were brutalized.

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Tim February 11, 2020 - 6:14 am

Matthew,

Is that the result of a school’s policy or is that the failure of a couple individuals?

That same kid couldn’t choose about a hundred Christian schools in your SUFS program because they practice institutionalized discrimination. Correct?

Why do you serve as an advocate for schools who discriminate? This isn’t that difficult. You should ban schools which discriminate against LGBTQ students as a POLICY. That is what I’m talking about. All of the obfuscation won’t change that. Period. End of story.

Matthew Ladner
Matthew Ladner February 11, 2020 - 7:40 am

That’s a story but not one that holds up. There are avenues to address your concerns that do not throw tens of thousands of children out of the schools their parents have chosen for them. Throwing these students under the bus is not something I can support.

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Tim February 11, 2020 - 8:57 am

Matthew,

Thank you, Matthew. Now we are getting somewhere. Could you tell me and all those who read this blog the specific “avenue to address your concerns” about institutionalized discrimination? How do you suggest we allow schools which discriminate be allowed to take funding through a program created by the state? What is the avenue? My guess is we ban schools from the program that discriminate but if you have another specific suggestion I’m willing to listen.

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Tim February 11, 2020 - 9:02 am

If your answer is to take this to the legislature, then the problem is the legislature will not act. Your agency, created by the legislature, could also address the problem. Since neither you nor the legislature will act to end institutionalized discrimination, companies are taking their money elsewhere. It won’t get any better for them either as people decide to take their business elsewhere if they support your program.

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