State Education Commissioner Manny Diaz voices support for ‘Don’t Say Gay’ expansion amid criticism

State Education Commissioner Manny Diaz threw his support behind Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ controversial plan to expand the Parental Rights in Education Act to all grade levels in the state’s public schools.

The law, known by critics as “Don’t Day Gay,” prohibits instruction in sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom.

Speaking on Thursday at an event in Orange Park, near Jacksonville, Diaz said schools should focus on academics.

“This rule basically says that we’re sticking to the standards, and when you’re talking about K-12 instruction, all the way to 12th grade, these standards don’t incorporate gender ideology or any of these theories in math, social studies, reading or anything else,” he said.

Last year, DeSantis supported the appointment of Diaz, then a state senator, to be commissioner for the State Board of Education.

The proposal to expand the law is the state’s latest answer to an ongoing debate in the Florida State Capitol: what instruction, if any, should schoolchildren have about sexual orientation and gender identity?

Last year, the Legislature decided that between kindergarten and third grade, there should be none, and DeSantis signed “Don’t Say Gay” into law.

“The topic of things like gender ideology, I think is inappropriate,” DeSantis said last year. “You’re having these kids, and they are basically being told, ‘You may not be a bo, you may be a girl.’ Parents don’t want that.”

This year, the Republican supermajority in the state Legislature has sought to expand that, changing the restrictions from kindergarten to eighth grade. After that, lessons would have to be age-appropriate.

But the proposed rule under the Florida Department of Education will take it out of the hands of lawmakers and into the hands of state administrators.

“We preserve the health standards, and that provides it, makes it clear for teachers what it is, because there were a lot of questions about age-appropriate [content]. Well, this clarifies it for everyone,” said Diaz.

Under the proposal, individual educators could see their licenses at risk.

Among those who have been opposed to “Don’t Say Gay” from the start is the LGBTQ+ political advocacy group Equality Florida. The organization’s press secretary, Brandon Wolf, spoke with 7News on Thursday.

“As proposed, this new State Board of Education policy would actually make teachers individually liable, putting their professional licenses on the line,” said Wolf. “This comes at a time when we already have 8,000 vacant teacher positions in the state of Florida.”

Florida State Rep. Ashley Gantt, a Democrat, is also opposed.

“You make it a rule by administration by someone who was never elected. Who are they accountable to?” she said. “They are not accountable to the voters.”

Sponsors of the similar bills say the word “instruction” is the key, and no discussion is banned.

But opponents argue the language is vague.

“I’m frustrated for parents and families in Florida who’ve been lied to for a year, who’ve been gaslit from the very beginning,” said Wolf. “We were told that this bill was narrow in scope, that it was only intended to do a handful of things, but that the language had to remain vague and broad on purpose, and as a result, we’ve watched as, again, Miami-Dade County refused to recognize LGBTQ History Month.”

If the expansion is approved, the State Board of Education panel will vote on it sometime in April.

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