The morning after his election, a new South Florida school board member said he wants to bring back corporal punishment in the classroom and see fewer rights for LGBTQ students.
Collier County School BoardNewly elected member Jerry Rutherford announced the goals on Wednesday after beating former teacher, administrator and school board member Jory Westberry for the District 1 seat in Tuesday’s election.
Rutherford said he wants to reintroduce corporal punishment and said the behavior of disabled students in particular has “got out of control”. Florida allows corporal punishment in public schools as long as the district allows, although Collier County currently prohibits it.
Rutherford, who has protested the LGBTQ festival in Naples and has pushed for Bibles in schools, said he would like to see fewer “rights” for LGBTQ students — or the same rights extended to religious students who practice religion. want to practice at school.
Rutherford won the seat with a strong 65.4% of the vote against Westberry’s 34.6%.
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After more than 35 years of talking countless times on numerous issues at school board meetings, Rutherford told the Naples Daily News in July that he decided he didn’t want to look outside anymore, so he entered the school board race.
This was the first time he had run for an elected position, he said.
Rutherford was approved by the Collier County Republican Executive Committee, which endorsed all three challengers to the school board. They all won their races.
A devout Christian, he has fought to distribute Bibles in schools and institute prayers at school board meetings. He has also protested the LGBTQ Pride festival in Naples, speaking out specifically against drag shows.
An Air Force veteran, Rutherford has worked in sales and construction and had a painting business in the Naples area for over 20 years. He was also a deputy teacher in the ward for three years.
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Rutherford’s dramatic shift in priorities after his election
Rutherford’s views changed dramatically before and after his election.
In July, he told the Naples Daily News, part of the USA TODAY Network, that his priorities were to provide quality education that helps everyone succeed, improve the safety and mental health of students and teachers, and address budgetary concerns.
But Wednesday morning, reached by phone, Rutherford said he has a five-point agenda he’d like to implement, which includes “mental and physical discipline,” or physical punishment of children in Collier’s public schools.
“I only went to the principal’s office once when I was in school and that was when they used the board of education, if you know what I’m saying,” Rutherford said.
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Rutherford added that disabled students have no control and get away with too much. He read an article by a California teacher saying that he had dropped out of school because his disabled students swore and otherwise misbehaved, and he couldn’t hold them accountable.
According to an 2021 analysis by the Education Commission of the States, which monitors education policy, Florida is one of at least 18 states to allow corporal punishment in public schools as long as the district allows it. According to the National Association of State Boards of EducationFlorida does not require parental consent, only written parental notice afterwards.
Collier County currently prohibits corporal punishment. Under School Board Policy 5630, “the use of corporal punishment, defined in Florida law as the use of physical force or contact for disciplinary purposes, is prohibited.”
Further, Florida Statute 1003.573 states that disabled students can only be physically restrained if there is an imminent risk of serious injury or death to the student or others and only if all positive behavioral strategies have been exhausted.
Jackie Stephens, CEO of the Children’s Advocacy Center in Collier County, said she was “alarmed” to learn that a school administrator wants to bring corporal punishment back into the classroom.
“It can be harmful to the kids,” Stephens said. “There are no studies that really indicate that spanking is beneficial. In fact, it can lead to worse behavior and aggression.”
Stephens said many countries have banned the beating of children, even by their own parents. In the United States, many organizations have registered as a “no hit zone”, meaning they don’t condone any kind of slapping.
“There are a lot of places that are becoming no-hit zones, like the Children’s Advocacy Center and hospitals. I think school would be a good place not to hit kids.”
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Rutherford’s agenda is also focused on “respect,” he said. “There must be respect for ourselves, for others and for authority.”
In that vein, he said he believed people are being indoctrinated to support LGBTQ rights, and “when it comes to indoctrination, I won’t put up with that,” he said.
Rutherford added that some lawmakers had passed bills that he believes extend the rights of LGBTQ people beyond normal rights.
“I’m all for equal rights, but I’m not for special rights,” he said.
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For example, he said an LGBTQ student group in Collier County gave teachers a sticker to put on their doors with a rainbow that reads “safe zone.” A teacher, he said, refused to hang it.
He didn’t elaborate on what rights LGBTQ people have that others don’t.
According to The Safe Zone Project, which provides training that empowers people to learn about LGBTQ identities and explore prejudice and prejudice, the words “safe zone” usually communicate that the person is an ally of the LGBTQ community, has a safe Zone training or trying to communicate support.
“I have no problem with that, but it should extend to sectarians,” Rutherford said.
“If you want to have a secular symbol, you have to give a religious symbol,” he said. “What if we gave teachers a sticker with a cross that said ‘saved zone?’ We have religious rights and we have personal rights.”
GLSEN, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting LGBTQ students through policy writing and advocacy, said elected leaders and elected school leaders have a responsibility to protect all youth, including LGBTQ youth.
“Queer students in Florida, especially those of color and those who are trans and non-binary, are being brutally attacked by extremists,” said GLSEN Director Melanie Willingham-Jaggers. “They face a hostile climate amid curriculum censorship laws and have been repeatedly subjected to political attacks. Florida students deserve so much better from the adult politicians who should be supporting them. This kind of anti-LGBTQ+ fear mongering and misinformation from any school also leader is unacceptable.”
“We are absolutely saddened by his agenda,” said Cori Craciun, president of Naples Pride. “The rights of LGBT children have been taken away by the Parental Rights Bill and the Florida Medical Board, which banned (gender-affirming) care for transgender minors. … The ‘safe zones’ are there to protect these children. They are often the only place these children know there is a supportive adult they can reach.”
Want to increase religion in public schools
The Federal Law on Bibles in Public Schools is derived from the 1963 Supreme Court case Abingdon v. Schemppwhich distinguishes between devotional reading and the objective study of religion.
Basically, religious texts like the Bible are allowed in public schools to study, but what is not allowed is devotion or reading from the Bible as a religious practice.
Rutherford added that he wants to see “textbooks that are free of bias, censorship and rewritten history”, as well as “morals and ethics in school”.
He said he planned to review all new textbooks and flag anything he saw as questionable or biased. He did not specify what he considered to be biased or rewritten history.
Rutherford was also keen to see a citizenship course reintroduced into the curriculum, where students would study the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, under the recent policy of Governor Ron DeSantis.
But Rutherford said he felt the government had gone too far in other ways, such as forcing students and teachers to wear masks by 2020 to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and requiring military personnel to be vaccinated against the virus that has caused fatalities. over 1 million people in the US
As a former pilot, he expressed his frustration with this.
“They say no (to the vaccine), and for that they get kicked out,” he said.
He noted that while Collier Public Schools required masking early in the pandemic, Mason Classical Academy, a local charter school, did not, which he believes was a better example of respect for students’ rights. Collier should follow Mason’s lead, he said.
Education reporter Nikki Ross contributed to this article. Kate Cimini is an investigative reporter covering Florida. firstname.lastname@example.org.