Florida wants to expand the "don't say gay" law. What does this mean for educators? (2023)

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' administration plans to expand what critics call the "Don't Say Gay" law, which aims to ban teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity in all classrooms, potentially putting teachers at risk of losing their credentials if they are found to be in breach.

oparental rights in educationThe law currently prohibits the teaching of sexual orientation and gender identity in grades K-3 and requires that instruction on these topics for older students be age or developmentally appropriate, as determined by the state Department of Education.

oextended version, proposed March 22 by the Florida Department of Education, does not require legal approval, but requires a vote by the state board of education. The board is expected to vote on the proposal on April 19. Both the Ministry of Education and the Council of State are governed by appointments of governors.

News of the planned expansion came the same day that a drag and donut event featuring a drag queen, organized by students at Orlando's Boone High School, had to be canceled under pressure from the state Department of Education.

The queer alliance and college ally invited Jason DeShazo, posing as mom Ashley Rose, to speak to high school students on campus about his experiences as a queer man for the third year in a row.

The event "was not a show of resistance, but an opportunity for students to hear a positive message of acceptance and love," Boone High School Principal Hector Maestre told students and families in an email and a message. Voicemail provided by Education Week sent by the district.

But after a call from the education department questioning the appropriateness of the event and warning that the team's presence at the event could cost them their job or their teaching license, the school was forced to cancel DeShazo's performance, according to the message from Master.

“The department has questioned whether the event was age and developmentally appropriate,” he said in his message last week. "And he pointed out that any administrator, teacher or staff member present could be investigated and their professional license compromised."

While applicable state law was not directly cited as a reason, the department used the "developmentally appropriate" language of the law to challenge the event.

More than a year after his death, the Department of Education has not clarified what the order entails, according to Brandon Wolf, a spokesman for Equality Florida, an LGBTQ rights organization.

There is no mention that extracurricular clubs or student-run activities are prohibited from discussing sexual orientation or gender identity. The law also does not put teachers at risk of losing their licenses or jobs for violating the law.

What the proposed extension actually says

The expanded version of the law would prohibitany discussionorientation and gender identity in schools, "unless such instruction is specifically required by government academic standards ... to attend," the proposed document read.

The proposed expansion also states that Florida educators who violate the law "may be subject to revocation or suspension of individual educator certificate or other penalties provided by law."

The Florida Commissioner of Education may also choose to "take disciplinary action against an educator's license that violates the principles."

The original "Don't Say Gay" law held school districts accountable for violations, as opposed to individual teachers.

Criticism and defense of the expansion proposal

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at a press conference on March 22 that the proposed expansion was "completely wrong" and part of a "disturbing and dangerous trend" in anti-LGBTQ legislation in all the countries.

Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz responded to a video clip of Jean-Pierre's comments about the expansion throughGore.

"Students should spend their time in school learning core academic subjects and not be force-fed radical ideologies of gender and sex," he said.

"In Florida, we stand up for children's right to be children."

Florida Department of Education spokeswoman Cassandra Palelis sent Education Week a copy of that tweet but did not respond to specific questions about the proposed expansion.

“There is no reason for sexual orientation or gender identity to be a part of public K-12 education,” said Bryan Griffin, Gov. DeSantis's press secretary, citing Diaz's statement in a tweet. "Spot."

Griffin sent Education Week a copy of his tweet in response to a list of questions.

“I think what we're seeing is political theater by the governor that has real-life ramifications,” Wolf of Equality Florida said.

The effects of applicable law

In the year since the Don't Say Gay law was passed, its impact has been felt across the country, primarily in the form of districts restricting access to LGBTQ books and resources.

dozens ofcopied versionsRepublican lawmakers across the country have proposed legislation that makes it even more extreme and expands Florida's ban.

In Florida, the law has been cited as the basis for challenging dozens of books for containing references to LGBTQ characters, including one called a picture book.And the tango makes threefor elementary readers about two male penguins who adopted a baby penguin. also drove itSafe Room Stickersremoved from classroom or compound windows refuse to acknowledgeLGBTQ History Month.

Now, the expanded version directly threatens teachers, unlike districts in the previous iteration, Wolf said.

"This proposal places legal liability on the individual educator who jeopardizes his or her professional license by violating this proposed new policy," Wolf said. "So it's no longer about parents holding individual districts accountable. And instead about teachers being afraid of losing their jobs and not being able to continue being educators."

With the effects of the current version of the law already being felt in books for younger children, challenged and removed from resources, the expanded version will almost certainly have the same effects on older students as well, Wolf said.

Title IX requires schools to protect LGBTQ students from discrimination

Many districts in Florida last yearforbidden booksabout LGBTQ characters or temporarily remove to prevent violations of the law. The department mandated training for Florida librarians, urging them to obey state laws like the Don't Say Gay Act and "play it safe" when choosing books.

Education Week contacted four districts to ask about the possible implications of the proposed new version.

Hillsborough County Public Schools and Pinellas County Schools said they "are not commenting on the pending legislation."

"We don't teach gender identity or sexual orientation in grades K-3, so we're not affected by the law on this," said Tanya Arja, Hillsborough County communications manager, in response to a question about how to do this. The current 'Don't Say Gay' law affected Hillsborough.

Hillsborough County's inclusion policies, including one on racial justice and one on safe spaces for LGBTQ students,were tested last yearby the State Department of Education for potentially violating state laws, including the "Don't Say Gay" law.

Officials with Duval County Schools and Miami Dade County Schools, Florida's largest school district, did not respond to requests for comment.

"School districts should not preemptively censor content that falls outside the scope of this legislation," Wolf said.

Under federal law, districts have a responsibility to protect LGBTQ students and not discriminate against them based on their gender or sexual identity, he said.

"I know it's hard in this political climate, [but] schools have a responsibility to all students and can't just let LGBTQ students down."

Florida wants to expand the "don't say gay" law. What does this mean for educators? (1)
Eesha Pendharkar

employee writer, education week

Eesha Pendharkar is a reporter for Education Week covering race and opportunity in education.

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