Lawsuit settled: Sexual orientation, gender ID can be discussed in Florida schools

Ron DeSantis

A settlement was announced on Monday between Florida education officials and civil rights attorneys after a two-year legal battle over the state’s Parental Rights in Education Act.

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Students and teachers will be able to speak freely about sexual orientation and gender identity in the state, as long as it is not part of the curriculum, The Associated Press reported.

The legislation was signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis in March 2022, the Tampa Bay Times reported. Critics had challenged the constitutionality of the law, dubbed “Don’t Say Gay” by its critics.

The law banned classroom instruction about gender identity and sexual orientation in kindergarten through third grade -- where it was not part of the curriculum -- and restricted such lessons for older grades, according to the newspaper.

A year later, the state expanded the prohibition through high schools.

Republican lawmakers contended that parents should bring up those subjects to their children and that the law protected students from being taught inappropriate material.

The settlement reached on Monday clarifies whether teachers can identify themselves as LGBTQ+ or if they could display rainbow stickers in classrooms, the AP reported. Advocacy groups Equality Florida and Family Equality were involved in the settlement, according to the Times.

The plaintiffs were Amy Morrison and Cecile Houry, a Miami-Dade County couple.

Attorneys for the state of Florida said the allegations about the law’s lack of clarity were unfounded, the newspaper reported.

“It should put a stop to the overreacting” in the schools, Roberta Kaplan, the lead lawyer for the plaintiffs, told the Times. “We think that is a huge step forward.”

The governor’s office called the settlement a victory against “activists and extremists” who attempted to “smear and stop” the law. The law will remain intact, according to a news release.

In the news release, the office said efforts to misrepresent the law’s objectives and meaning had failed. The settlement means that the law will remain intact, it said.

“We fought hard to ensure this law couldn’t be maligned in court, as it was in the public arena by the media and large corporate actors,” General Counsel Ryan Newman said in a news release. “We are victorious, and Florida’s classrooms will remain a safe place under the Parental Rights in Education Act.”

Republican lawmakers contended that parents should bring up subjects about sexuality and gender issues to their children and that the law protected students from being taught inappropriate material, the AP reported.

As part of the deal, the Florida Department of Education will send a memorandum to all school districts, the Times reported. The memo will explain that the law is not as restrictive as some schools have interpreted it to be.

The memo will state that the law does not prohibit classroom references to LGBTQ+ people, families or issues, including in literature, discussions with students and academic work such as student essays, according to the newspaper.

The law requires neutrality and prohibits instruction in classrooms about sexual orientation of all types. It also means that the law does not apply to library books that are not being used in class lessons, the Times reported.

“What this settlement does, is, it re-establishes the fundamental principle, that I hope all Americans agree with, which is every kid in this country is entitled to an education at a public school where they feel safe, their dignity is respected and where their families and parents are welcomed,” Kaplan said in an interview, according to the AP. “This shouldn’t be a controversial thing.”

The original lawsuit was dismissed last year by a federal judge in Tallahassee, who said they lacked standing to sue, the news organization reported. The case was appealed to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

Morrison and Houry said they were pleased with the settlement.

“It’s going to make a huge difference because the law was so vague that people stayed away from everything,” Houry said, according to the Times. “Here it really defines what is not allowed, and everything else that is allowed. It’s going to change students’ experience.”

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