Teacher with students, in a classroom. Credit: Getty Images.
Amid sharp divisions between Republicans and Democrats, the Legislature has approved measures for Florida’s public schools that could help or hurt — by restricting “pronouns,” quickly removing certain books in classrooms and school libraries, and expanding a ban on discussion in sexual orientation or gender identity.
The GOP-controlled chambers have focused on protecting youngsters at school, but Democrats argue that what’s happening is a political culture war that involves nearly 3 million students in the state’s public school system as well as teachers and staff.
State Sen. Tracie Davis, a Democrat representing part of Duval County, said: “There are almost 500 bills going through the nation like this. And I guarantee you that every LGBTQ person is paying attention. And all of those 500 bill sponsors are saying the same thing:
“‘This is about protecting the children.’ But is it really? Parents already have the option to opt out of sexual education. They already have the ability to protest a book or a curriculum. Nothing this bill is addressing is something that hasn’t already been addressed, except for the thread of common decency to the LGBTQ community.”
But Republican lawmakers continue to say that the bill, HB 1069, will not harm children.
The legislation includes this language and excerpts:
- “Sex” means the classification of a person as either female or male based on the organization of the body of such person for a specific reproductive role, as indicated by the person’s sex chromosomes, naturally occurring sex hormones, and internal and external genitalia present at birth;
- It shall be the policy of every public K-12 educational institution that is provided or authorized by the Constitution and laws of Florida that a person’s sex is an immutable biological trait and that it is false to ascribe to a person a pronoun that does not correspond to such person’s sex.
- An employee, contractor, or student of a public K-12 educational institution may not be required, as a condition of employment or enrollment or participation in any program, to refer to another person using that person’s preferred personal title or pronouns if such personal title or pronouns do not correspond to that person’s sex.
- Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in prekindergarten through grade 8.
(This is Part 2 of a ban that occurred last year, with kindergarten through third grade, and was dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law. That 2022 legislation was actually titled “Parental Rights in Education Act,” but “Don’t Say Gay” stuck. The state Board of Education, in the form of a rule, just recently approved a ban on classroom instruction in sexual orientation or gender identity in grades 4 through 12. That would bring all grades into the mix starting from PreK to 12th grade, according to the language in the rule.)
- Any material that is subject to an objection … must be removed within 5 school days of receipt of the objection and remain unavailable to students of that school until the objection is resolved. Parents shall have the right to read passages from any material that is subject to an objection. If the school board denies a parent the right to read passages due to content that meets the requirements … the school district shall discontinue the use of the material.
Equality Florida, a civil rights organization dedicated to LGBTQ issues, described HB 1069 in this way:
“HB 1069, the Don’t Say LGBTQ Expansion Bill, passed, which extends last year’s censorship of classroom discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity now up to eighth grade and overrides a parent’s right to ensure that school personnel address their transgender child with the correct title and pronouns. The bill also dramatically accelerates book banning efforts in Florida, allowing any person in a county to automatically remove a book from school shelves pending a lengthy review on the grounds of certain objections.”
HB 1069 now goes to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk for consideration.
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