Teachers voice concerns after Orange County previews ‘Don’t Say Gay’ impact to classrooms

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Representatives for Orange County teachers sounded alarm bells Monday after word spread from principals that Orange County Public Schools would impose strict restrictions on classroom behavior after Florida’s new Parental Rights in Education law, a.k.a the “Don’t Say Gay” law, took effect.

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In private, administrators-only seminars last week, OCPS attorneys advised principals what behaviors would and would not be legal under the law during a “Camp Legal” presentation.

According to representatives of the county’s teacher association, teachers and staff members will be disallowed from wearing rainbow articles of clothing, including lanyards distributed by the district last year. Elementary-level teachers reported being discouraged from putting pictures of their same-sex spouse on their desk or talking about them to students.

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“Safe Space” stickers aimed at LGBTQ students may have to be removed from doors, teachers will have to report to parents if a student “comes out” to them and they must use pronouns assigned at birth, regardless of what the parents allow, the CTA reported.

Some of the measures appeared to be far outside what the law actually forbids, as it focuses primarily on mental health monitoring and classroom curriculums.

“It will be alarming if our district chooses to interpret this law in the most extreme way,” CTA President-Elect Clinton McCracken said. “We want them to protect student privacy. We want them to make sure that they’re creating and helping to create safe classrooms. We believe our school board supports that.”

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A representative for OCPS confirmed the existence of the seminar, which they said took place in three separate sessions at Apopka High School and was part of annual training. However, they said the guidance provided to the administrators was not a planned part of the seminar, which a copy of the presentation obtained by WFTV showed.

“During the presentation, administrators posed hypothetical scenarios based upon the new statutes and verbal answers were provided based on the limited guidance from the Florida Department of Education,” the spokesman wrote. “Once further guidance is received from the Florida Department of Education, the district will provide formal guidance to administrators and staff.”

In a separate conversation, an OCPS official said the district needed to err on the side of caution until state officials provided more clarity. The strict interpretations, they said, were necessary to protect both students and teachers. The latter could have their teaching licenses revoked if they run afoul of the law, the official said.

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McCracken also called for transparency, and said he was hopeful the rules would change. He also called for people to support teachers at the district’s board meeting Tuesday.

“This is a district that has been really on the forefront, leading the state to protect and make sure that we are providing safe places for our students,” he said. “I have faith that they will continue to be that kind of district.”

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