Florida rule could restrict class instruction on sexual orientation through 12th grade

Tribune Content Agency

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida middle school and high school teachers would be further restricted from teaching about sexual orientation or gender identity under a proposed rule backed by the DeSantis administration that, if approved, would go beyond what state law currently requires.

The rule, which will be considered by the State Board of Education next month, says teachers in grades 4 to 12 “shall not intentionally provide classroom instruction” on those topics — unless the lessons are “expressly required” by the state’s academic standards or are part of a reproductive health course.

Education Commissioner Manny Diaz, the head of the Florida Department of Education, signed off on the proposed rule, which is scheduled for a vote on April 19. If the board approves the rule, teachers who violate it could be suspended or see their teaching license revoked.

The proposed rule would go beyond the Parental Rights in Education law — dubbed by critics “Don’t Say Gay” — that prohibits classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, and older grades in cases when the lessons are deemed to be not “age appropriate.”

The law, which DeSantis signed last year, has led some teachers to question what conversations are appropriate and have been more careful when discussing certain topics as Republican leaders and conservative parents and groups more actively scrutinize education-related content. Supporters of the restrictions, however, have said the law is aimed at classroom instruction not conversations about those topics when they naturally come up.

Republican lawmakers this year are advancing legislation that would expand the law. They want to prohibit instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade — and if such instruction is offered in grades 9 through 12, they want it to be appropriate or developmentally appropriate according to the state’s standards.

Proposed rule goes further than legislation

While the DeSantis administration’s proposal would go further than the legislation lawmakers are pushing this spring, the legislative proposals include other restrictions that critics say also take aim at the LGBTQ community.

The bills would limit school employees’ ability to refer to students or staff members with pronouns that differ from those assigned to them at birth — even in cases when a parent is OK with it. And it would require every public K-12 school to have a policy that says it is “false” to ascribe to a person a pronoun that does not correspond to their assigned sex.

Students, parents, teachers and Democratic lawmakers have criticized the proposed legislation, which they say will harm LGBTQ youth because it sends a message that they are not welcome. Republicans and supporters of the bill argue that the restrictions on pronouns and instruction are appropriate because certain cultural issues should not be part of a school setting.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre condemned the DeSantis administration’s proposal on Wednesday when asked during a press conference.

“It’s wrong, it’s completely, utterly wrong,” Jean-Pierre said. “And we’ve been very crystal clear about that when it comes to the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill and other actions that this governor has taken in the state of Florida.”

DeSantis’ press secretary Bryan Griffin and Diaz, the state’s education commissioner, publicly defended the proposed rule only after Jean-Perre commented.

“There is no reason for instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity to be part of K-12 public education,” Griffin said. “Full stop.”

Diaz posted on Twitter, “Students should be spending their time in school learning core academic subjects, not being force-fed radical gender and sexual ideology.”

“In Florida, we’re preserving the right of kids to be kids,” Diaz said.

The Florida Department of Education and the governor’s office have not said why the administrative rule seeks to go beyond what state lawmakers have approved or are considering.


McClatchy DC reporter Alex Roarty contributed to this report from Washington. Miami Herald reporter Sommer Brugal contributed to this report from Miami.