A sweeping expansion of Florida’s controversial “Parental Rights in Education” law is on its way to Gov. Ron DeSantis. The expansion of what critics call the “don’t say gay” law would bar instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity through eighth grade.
The measure has other changes that were not in the version passed last year because it would also restrict the way students and teachers can use their preferred pronouns in public schools.
The bill requires that it “shall be the policy” of every public school 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.”
Teachers and other school employees would be prohibited from telling students their preferred pronouns and would be barred from asking students about their preferred pronouns.
Senate sponsor Clay Yarborough, R-Jacksonville, and other bill supporters said it is geared toward protecting children who are “at more impressionable ages” and allowing parents to be in control of such discussions.
But Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book, D-Davie, said the bill “marginalizes children” and represents an insult to teachers.
The debate over the law went on for hours before it passed along party lines -- 27 to 12 -- in the Republican-controlled Senate.
The House passed its version last month, and DeSantis has said he will sign it.
Senators shared their point of view on both sides of the debate.
“A middle school art teacher in Cape Coral came out to her students as pansexual and polyamorous, encouraged her students to come out to her and create a flag to reflect their sexual identity. This is inappropriate,” Yarborough said. “That is not something that is appropriate for a public school classroom. The state board of education adopts standards and benchmarks for teaching courses. For example, these standards govern the content of instruction for reproductive health and education. We want teachers to stay on topic and leave to parents the decision to instruct on sexual orientation and gender identity.”
State Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, disagreed.
“I have kids in college. They are so comfortable with someone being called ‘they’, ‘he’ or ‘she’ with bisexuality and nonbinary people,” Polsky said. “This is the world they live in, and they’re trying to teach us old farts sitting here trying to legislate ... trying to legislate culture. It’s just not right.”
Polsky said the measure targets LGBTQ people.
“Trans is a fact of life. Gay is a fact of life. You can’t legislate away the gay, as much as you might try,” Polsky said.
The Florida Board of Education has already approved a similar ban to cover all grades. The rule dealt with an educators’ code of conduct and spelled out that teachers could face suspension or revocation of their educator certificates for violations of the rule.
The bill also would build on another controversial 2022 law that increased scrutiny of school-library books and instructional materials. The bill, in part, would take steps to make the process of objecting to books and instructional materials easier.
For example, the bill would require that forms used for objecting to books to be “easy to read and understand” and be readily accessible on school districts’ websites.
In instances where an objection is made based on possible pornographic content or material that “describes sexual conduct,” the bill would require the materials to be removed from schools within five days of the objection and “remain unavailable to students of that school until the objection is resolved.”