TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida attorneys provided some insight into how the state Department of Education plans to enforce the new Parental Rights in Education law, which critics have nicknamed “Don’t Say Gay.”
The statements were part of a response to a lawsuit filed by advocacy groups that accused the state of targeting the LGBTQ population. Activists are asking a federal judge to put a stop to the law to support gay students, families and teachers.
The response came after confusion mounted within Orange County Public Schools over the weekend. During a private seminar, attorneys and principals hashed out how teachers should behave on the job to avoid running afoul of the law and potentially losing their teaching license. The teacher’s association said some of the suggestions included a ban on wearing rainbows or displaying photos of same-sex spouses. The district blamed a lack of communication from Tallahassee for the controversy.
Attorneys for the state disputed many of the claims, saying enforcement would be narrow and limited to the text of the law.
“Only the instructional restriction applicable to kindergarten through third grade takes effect on July 1, 2022,” they wrote. “There is no merit, for example, to the suggestion that the statute restricts gay and transgender teachers from ‘put[ting] a family photo on their desk’ or ‘refer[ring] to themselves and their spouse (and their own children).’ Those actions are not “instruction,” which is “the action, practice, or profession of teaching.”
Essentially, the state would only seek out instances where teachers or other adults discussed sexuality or gender identity as part of a planned curriculum. Additionally, while the law itself applies to older grades, those restrictions won’t be in effect immediately because the state standards defining what is “age appropriate” haven’t been adopted.
Nothing in the law prohibits forming a Gay-Straight Alliance, displaying LGBTQ-related books in a library or incidental discussions of gender or sexuality in a class, the attorneys added.
Previously, Orange County Public Schools officials said they would provide teachers with formal guidance once it had more information on the state’s position. The legal response is likely enough for internal discussions to begin taking place, well before the next school year begins.
District leaders had also vigorously defended their reputation as a supportive district for the LGBTQ community.
“OCPS wants each of our 206,000 students to be respected and feel safe at school,” a district spokesman said. “We have consistently recognized and supported our LGBTQ+ community in the past and have no less of a commitment going forward.”
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