As Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law takes effect, schools implement LGBTQ restrictions

As Florida’s parental rights in education law, or what critics have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law, goes into effect Friday, some of the state’s public school districts have begun implementing new policies to limit discussion of LGBTQ issues and identities. in the classroom.

On Tuesday night, the Leon County School Board unanimously approved its “Guide to LGBTQ Inclusive Schools”, which includes a provision to alert parents if a student who is “open about his or her gender identity” is in their child’s physical education class or with them on an overnight school trip.

“Upon notification or determination of a student who is open about his or her gender identity, parents of affected students will be notified of available reasonable accommodation options,” the guidelines read. “Parents or students who have concerns about accommodation assignments for their student’s upcoming evening event based on religious or privacy concerns may request an accommodation.”

Representatives of the Orange County Classroom Teachers Association accused school officials on Monday to verbally warn educators not to wear rainbow clothing and to remove photos of their same-sex spouses from their desks and LGBTQ safe space stickers on classroom doors. The district’s legal department confirmed in a statement provided the teachers’ association, which covers the Orlando area, that staff members who come into contact with students in kindergarten through third grade were alerted to LGBTQ issues.

And late last month, the Palm Beach County School District sent out a questionnaire asking its teachers to review all course material and flag any books with references to sexual orientation, gender identity or race. said a Palm Beach County High School special education teacher, Michael Woods. Several weeks earlier, the district removed two books, “I Am Jazz” and “Call Me Max,” that touch on gender identity, he said.

Governor Ron DeSantis
Governor Ron DeSantis signs the Parents’ Rights in Education bill at Classical High School in Shady Hills, Florida on March 28.Douglas R. Clifford / AP File

The so-called law Don’t say gay, HB 1557, prohibits “instruction” about sexual orientation or gender identity “in kindergarten through third grade or in a manner that is not age- or developmentally appropriate to students in accordance with state standards.” A provision of the law also requires school staff members to alert parents to “critical decisions affecting a student’s mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being,” which many advocates have interpreted as a form of force educators to reveal their gay or trans identity. students. When teachers “believe that disclosure would result in abuse, neglect, or neglect,” they are exempt from doing so.

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Lawmakers who support the measure, which Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed in March, have repeatedly emphasized that it will apply only to children in kindergarten through third grade and that it is about giving parents more jurisdiction over their children’s education. little ones. They have also stated that it will not prohibit teachers and students from talking about their LGBTQ families or ban classroom discussions of LGBTQ history, including events such as the 2016 attack on the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando.

But the critics and Legal Experts They have said the broad language of the law could expose school districts and teachers to lawsuits from parents who believe any discussion of LGBTQ people or issues is “not age appropriate.” (Parents will be able to sue school districts for alleged violations, damages, or legal fees.)

The state Department of Education is expected to release more information about its standards benchmarks later this summer. In an April interview with Fox News host Laura Ingraham, DeSantis He suggested the standards would apply the law beyond third grade, adding that “things like arousing gender ideology have no place in schools, period.”

State Rep. Carlos Smith, a Democrat who is gay and has been an outspoken critic of the new law, said he was “not surprised” that state schools announced the policies and guidelines.

“We talked about this from the beginning,” he said. “What’s happening right now, with rainbow flag censorship and school districts gearing up to basically push LGBTQ students and teachers into the closet, is exactly what we said would happen with the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law.” .

Asked if DeSantis wanted to respond to new guidelines from school districts on LGBTQ issues that appear to supersede the parameters of the new law, his press secretary, Christina Pushaw, said the Department of Education is responsible for working with districts. schools to implement policies.

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“This is not something the governor himself does,” he wrote in an email.

In an email to NBC News, Alex Lanfranconi, director of communications for the Florida Department of Education, called “allegations about the implementation” of the new law “fake news.”

“It is not surprising that activists and teachers unions are creating a false narrative to sow confusion among the public,” Lanfranconi said. “HB 1557 prohibits classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in grades K-3.”

Members and supporters of the LGBTQ community attend the
Members and supporters of the LGBTQ community at the “Say Gay Anyway” rally in Miami Beach, Florida, on March 13.Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images file

five other states — all of them in the South — have enacted laws limiting instruction or discussion about LGBTQ people or issues in school, and at least 32 others have proposed such measures this year, according to the Movement Advancement Project, a group from LGBTQ experts who have been tracing the bills.

Smith stressed that the policies will have consequences for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer students, noting the disproportionately high rates of suicide attempts among LGBTQ youth in the country. A poll This year by the Trevor Project, an LGBTQ youth suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization, found that nearly 50% of the 35,000 LGBTQ youth surveyed said they had seriously considered suicide in the past year.

“Creating safe spaces for LGBTQ children in schools is a matter of life and death,” Smith said. “Ron DeSantis is creating toxic environments in our classrooms that can have devastating consequences for queer youth, and he doesn’t care. It’s all about politics for him.”

in a letter Addressed to the Orange County Classroom Teachers Association, the district’s general counsel asserted that a number of statements about what the Parental Rights in Education Act would prohibit are inaccurate, including a claim that “they will remove the safe space decals on classroom doors. However, the letter then says that “it is recommended that safe space stickers be removed from K-3 classrooms so that classroom instruction does not inadvertently occur on prohibited sexual orientation or gender identity content.” “.

“Out of one side of their mouth, they’re saying it’s not accurate, and out of the other side, they’re saying, ‘Yeah, you might want to be careful,’” said Clinton McCracken, the president-elect of the County Classroom Teachers Association. of Orange.

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He expressed his general frustration with the new law, saying his district’s attempt to clarify the legislation created even more confusion.

“Then what is? Are K-8 teachers supposed to go back in the closet, according to our legal team? Or are they allowed to act like every other straight teacher who has a picture of their spouse on their desk?

In Palm Beach County, Woods, who is gay, said that after receiving the questionnaire from school officials to flag course material or books with LGBTQ references, many of his colleagues are nervous they’ll be reprimanded if they get lost. something.

“My colleagues have told me, ‘Well, I’m just going to put all my books away and not take any out,’” he said. “That sounds like a knee-jerk reaction, but when you’re in that situation, it’s just one more stressor you’re going to put on yourself. And is that really the hill you want to die on?

Some LGBTQ teachers in school districts where guidelines have not yet been issued are even less sure what they can or cannot say and use next school year.

Brian Kerekes teaches math at a high school in Osceola County, which has yet to issue guidance to comply with the new law. With no set guidelines, he worries about mistakes. Recently, he said, a staff member was asked to remove a “gender pan person,” an animated diagram used to teach children about gender identity, from his office.

“We’re just stuck in the middle trying to figure out what’s right and what’s not while trying to do our primary function, which is to support our students and provide them with a safe space to learn,” he said. “It’s going to be a disaster.”

Kerekes said he also expects school districts to start firing teachers accused of breaking the law, even if they are found to have done nothing wrong. He pointed to the fact that all public school teachers in the state are hired year after year and that the law prohibits school districts from recovering legal fees in cases where they win.

“Even if an investigation turns out to be false, a principal might still decide the teacher is no longer worth having around and just leave,” he said. “I’m just worried that we’re going to waste our time on unimportant things instead of doing our job.”

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