The Parental Rights in Education Law is likely to be expanded all the way through high school.
The measure critics call the “Don’t Say Gay” law has been controversial from the start. When Gov. Ron DeSantis signed it into law last year, his administration assured the public that its ban on discussing gender identity and sexual orientation only applied to kindergarten through third grade. Now the state Board of Education is poised to expand the ban through 12th grade.
When the issue came up at the governor’s news conference Thursday, DeSantis deferred to state Secretary of Education Manny Diaz, who defended the proposal to expand the law through the high school years.
“This rule basically says that we’re sticking to the standards and we’re talking about K-12 instruction all the way through 12th grade,” Diaz said. “These standards don’t incorporate gender ideology or any of these theories in math, social studies, reading or anything else, we preserve the health standards and that provides, makes it clear for teachers what it is because there’s a lot of questions about age appropriate, well this clarifies it for everyone.”
The new rule would ban discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation “unless such instruction is either expressly required by state academic standards or is part of a reproductive health course for which a student’s parent has the option to have his or her student not attend.”
“It makes you feel invisible, it makes you feel like you’re not part of mainstream society,” said Dr. Lori Colan.
For her, the law is personal. Colan has a transgender child in college and a gay child in public high school, and she sees other gay and trans kids in her pediatric practice. She says the law sends a harmful message to vulnerable students.
“These kids aren’t deviants, they’re kids, they’re trying to figure out who they are like any other teenager, and I think it makes them feel if not physically unsafe in some schools, definitely emotionally unsafe,” Colan said.
A few months ago, Colan said, a teacher heard her gay child’s friends calling her by a sex-neutral nickname and the teacher reported it to the principal.
“He felt that by law, he had to report this,” Colan said. “It makes me furious, my other child, who is trans, she moved out of Florida, she’s living in rural Indiana and she feels safer than she does in South Florida.”
Dr. Colan points out that LGBTQ kids have higher rates of suicide and anxiety, and says parents like her have no rights under the Parental Rights in Education Law.
“To me it’s political, it’s entirely political, this is something that DeSantis is doing for the base, the type of people who will come out and vote in the primaries,” Colan asserted.
Defending the expansion of the law on Twitter, Diaz wrote, “Students should be spending their time in school learning core academic subjects, not being force-fed radical gender sexual ideology.”
Diaz and the DeSantis administration say if the topics of gender or sexual orientation come up organically in a class, the teacher can lead a discussion. However, Dr. Colan and other critics say the vagueness of that directive has an intentional chilling effect and teachers will shy away from addressing those topics to avoid getting into trouble.
The Board of Education meets next month and will likely approve the expansion through the high school grades.
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