‘No one is ever going to agree:’ Florida bans teaching sexual orientation, gender identity in k-12

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Florida Board of Education adopted a new rule Wednesday that critics have argued expands the state’s ban on the teaching of sexual orientation and gender identity to all grade levels.

When lawmakers passed the Parental Rights in Education Act, often called the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by opponents, classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity was banned in only grades K-3 and required instruction for all other grade levels to be ‘age appropriate’.

READ: Florida’s governor signs controversial law opponents dubbed ‘Don’t Say Gay’

“Telling kids that they may be able to pick genders and all that. I don’t think parents want that for these young kids,” Governor Ron DeSantis stated during a press conference in March of 2022.

A year later, the Florida Board has now adopted a new rule, which states teachers, “Shall not intentionally provide classroom instruction to students in grades 4 through 12 on sexual orientation and gender identity”.

Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz argued the rule clarifies teachers must teach the state-approved curriculum, which has never included those topics, except in the limited context of some health lessons.

“Our standards don’t cover these materials,” said Diaz.

Diaz also said the word ‘intentional’ in the rule aims to carve out interactions where a student may approach a teacher about the topics.

In those cases, he advised teachers should refer students to school counselors who can navigate those conversations with parental involvement.

“We shouldn’t really be turning our teachers into mental health professionals,” said Diaz.

READ: Florida Board of Education approves expanded ban of sexual orientation instruction in the classroom

But LGBTQ+ advocates believe the rule will forcefully out students to their parents, who may not approve of their child’s sexual or gender identity.

Before the board’s vote Wednesday, Equality Florida’s Joe Saunders called the rule vague and accused the board of attempting to censor LGBTQ+ issues.

“This rule is by design a tool for curating fear, anxiety and the erasure of our LGBTQ community,” said Saunders.

Public opinion on the rulings though has not been uniform.

Madeline Piper, a parent of a freshman at Sandalwood High School, told us she feels that conversations about sexuality are best had at home, regardless of grade level.

“And everyone is going to have their disagreements of what they think is right and what’s wrong. No one is ever going to agree 100 %,” said Piper.

The rule change comes as Florida lawmakers push a bill that would expand the Parental Rights in Education Act from grades K-3 to PreK-8th grade.

Commissioner Diaz told Action News Jax he doesn’t believe the rule and that legislation would come into conflict.

The new DOE rule is set to take effect in 34 days, on May 23.

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