TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (NSF/WCJB) — The legal battle over Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law that restricts classroom instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation is pitting red states against blue states.
Last week, Republican attorneys general from 14 states sought approval to file a brief supporting Florida in a fight over the new law. That came after Democratic attorneys general from 15 states and the District of Columbia filed a brief this summer in support of the bill’s challengers.
The law, which sparked fierce debate during this year’s legislative session, bars instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation in kindergarten through third grade and requires such instruction to be “age-appropriate…in accordance with state academic standards” in the upper grades.
Republican lawmakers called the measure the “Parental Rights in Education” bill. Opponents labeled it the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. The legislation was initially sponsored by State Senator Dennis Baxely of Ocala and State Rep. Joe Harding of Williston, who resigned last week.
The attorneys general of the Republican Party last week filed a motion to file a brief in the US district court in Tallahassee. They also attached a copy of the brief, which said that “a growing contingent of teachers and school administrators are promoting sexual content to children and encouraging them to hide it from their parents.”
“Parents have a great interest, and therefore the state has a great duty, in preventing children from being exposed to sexual instruction that is not appropriate for their age,” the friend of the court’s brief said. “The law does not violate anyone’s right to express themselves or receive information, it does not discriminate, and it is not unconstitutionally inaccurate.”
But Democratic attorneys general in August pointed to issues like speech rights.
“In short, Florida’s extreme focus implies the absence of a legitimate pedagogical purpose, making its restrictions on speech and minority targeting highly suspect,” the report said. “And the experiences of (all 15) states show that there are reasonable policies available that include LGBTQ people, encourage free speech and accommodate parents. Florida’s turn, by contrast, to restrict speech and target a minority provides further evidence of the law’s unconstitutionality.”
The filings came in a case that includes as plaintiffs two students from Miami-Dade County and Manatee County schools, two lesbian couples with children in Miami-Dade County schools, a woman with children in Miami-Dade County schools, Orange County and two teachers in Broward and Pasco counties. county schools. The defendants are the State Board of Education, the Florida Department of Education, and the school boards of Broward, Manatee, Miami-Dade, Orange and Pasco counties.
The plaintiffs filed a revised version of the lawsuit on October 27 after US District Judge Allen Winsor threw out an earlier version. State and school boards filed new motions to dismiss the case in late November. A separate challenge to the law is pending in federal court in Orlando.
Opponents of the law (HB 1557) have argued that it is discriminatory and violates speech rights. In addition, the revised lawsuit filed in Tallahassee cited an Oct. 19 decision by the State Board of Education to pass a rule that could lead to teachers losing their licenses for violating the law.
“The anticipated impact of this law is evident,” the lawsuit says. “It seeks to undo LGBTQ equal inclusion and issues in Florida schools and impede policies that require equal treatment and support for LGBTQ students. Presented with vague bans under the threat of litigation, schools and educators have been and will be cold when talking about or even referencing LGBTQ people, and LGBTQ students have been and will be stigmatized, ostracized and denied access to educational opportunities that their non-LGBTQ peers receive.”
But Florida Republicans and GOP attorneys general say the state can determine what is taught in the classroom.
“Florida’s HB 1557 fits well into the collection of state laws regulating the elementary education curriculum by placing restrictions on what teachers can say,” the attorneys general’s brief said. “In fact, many states have laws that go much further by regulating what teachers can (or must) say in the classroom.”
The report was led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, and joined by attorneys general from Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia. .
This summer’s brief was filed by the attorneys general of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New York and Oregon, along with the District of Columbia. .
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