JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A resolution that supports the “Parental Rights in Education” law -- which critics have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” policy -- spotlighted discussion Tuesday during the Duval County School Board meeting. It bans school employees from having conversations with students about sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade -- and places non-specific limits on those conversations throughout K-12 ages.
In addition to saying the board “unequivocally supports” the Parental Rights in Education law, the resolution also says the board is considering a key change to its LGBTQ+ “Support Guide.”
The guide isn’t currently available on the district’s website. News4JAX is reaching out to the school district to find out why, but versions of it have been posted in Broward and Palm Beach counties. The Florida Times-Union reported that the district’s legal department is reviewing the guide in response to the new law, which is the reason it’s unavailable.
Specifically, the resolution would strike the phrase, “it is never appropriate to divulge the sexual orientation of a student to a parent,” from the guide.
The resolution would also change the language that currently instructs school personnel -- without any parental involvement -- to have children decide on the bathroom of their choice as well as shower and other accommodations.
That arguably falls in line with the language included in the Parental Rights in Education law, which states schools must notify parents if there is a change to services for a student or if a school imposes any additional monitoring for their “mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being.”
The school board meeting began at 6 p.m. -- News4JAX was told 293 people signed up to speak during the public comment section of the meeting. At 11 p.m., the board voted to continue to allow people to continue speaking as approximately 50 people still were on the list to address the board.
“The push to snatch the innocence from our children is down-right criminal,” one person told the board.
“As a teacher, I am begging you not to pass this resolution. Protect out LGBT students, parents, staff, and family members,” a teacher told the board.
“This is a tragedy in our community. Just because we don’t fit the 1950s norms—give me a break,” said one person who opposed the resolution.
“You all are getting involved with the process of 5 to 8-year-old children and messing with their lives—destroying their lives,” said someone who supported the resolution.
Demonstrators gathered with signs outside the meeting, and others waited in large numbers to get inside to speak during public comment.
After hours of public comment, the floor was opened to the board to speak around 1:20 a.m., they addressed the number of people who appeared for public comment.
Board members then voted to take no action on a resolution that would show support for the law, the vote was 6-1. They didn’t say when this will come up again but will set aside more time for public comment and a possible vote.
The meeting adjourned at 1:48 am.
Gov. Ron DeSantis and supporters have repeatedly said the new law is reasonable, and that parents -- not teachers -- should be broaching the subjects of sexual orientation and gender identity with their children.
Blake Harper, who supports the law, agrees.
“They have no right to get involved with how parents raise their children and that’s exactly what they’re doing. It’s massive overreach,” he said.
Critics argue it marginalizes LGBTQ+ people.
Alana Costello is the parent of a child who is transgender.
“It’s about creating that divide that separates and makes little kids feel uncomfortable about who they are,” Costello said.
The President of the American Psychological Association condemned the law saying:
A recent survey was conducted in 2019 showing studies support this.
The CDC’s High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey found 58% of gay, lesbian or bisexual students in Florida felt sad or hopeless almost every day for at least two or more weeks in a row, 36% seriously considered attempting suicide and 20% attempted it.
That’s compared to 29% of heterosexual students who say they regularly felt sad, 11% who seriously considered attempting suicide and 5% who did attempt.
The Florida Department of Education dropped out of participating in the survey last month. Mental health advocates have called the move to withdraw “an incredibly dangerous precedent.”
The FDOE sent News4JAX the following statement about why it withdrew from the survey:
“We will not stop collecting data. We simply withdrew from a federal grant we did not view as necessary to collect this information. Rather than continue with a generic nationwide survey, our intent is to improve our data collection efforts to make the survey specifically tailored to Florida’s unique needs.”
Whatever DCPS board members decide to do with the resolution, there will likely be political repercussions.
The controversial policy was condemned by the Disney corporation, which then drew the wrath of Florida’s Republican governor.
Some News4JAX insiders believe the district should support the resolution…
Insider “Mike” wrote, “Support or resign! It’s the law! And you work for the taxpayers, not just the woke!” Meanwhile, Insider “Tom” commented, “Will the results of the ‘vote’ be made public so we’ll know who gets kicked to the curb on their next election day? Support the law or get out now.”
Chad Gardner, the parent of two DCPS students, says he’s worried that a resolution like the one Joyce filed has the potential to turn politics into harmful policy.
“I think a lot of these state-level and national-level politics are for the tv screens,” Gardner said. “They’re for the retweets and the Facebook likes, and they don’t have the people at heart, and they’re not there to protect individuals. I think overall, it’s just scaremongering, -- trying to rally the base ahead of midterms. I think it’s ridiculous.”
Cindy Nobles, the president of LGBTQ rights organization PFLAG in Jacksonville, agrees, saying the harm is going to be on those students who are the most vulnerable.
“Kids are supposed to feel safe when they’re at school. And this is going to lessen that feeling of safety,” Noble said. “We would actually be happier if they said, ‘look, we’re gonna follow the law, because we have to, but we still want our LGBT student body to know that we support them, and they are welcome here and they are safe here.”
The next school board meeting will be held in June.