State Board of Education to scrutinize Hillsborough, others, over LGBTQ policies

The board will meet on Wednesday.
Gov. Ron DeSantis signs the Parental Rights in Education bill at Classical Preparatory School in Spring Hill on Monday, March 28, 2022.
Gov. Ron DeSantis signs the Parental Rights in Education bill at Classical Preparatory School in Spring Hill on Monday, March 28, 2022. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Dec. 9, 2022

TALLAHASSEE — Florida’s State Board of Education will meet next week to scrutinize whether 10 school districts — including Miami-Dade, Broward and Hillsborough counties — are carrying out the state’s parental rights law, which has become a political lightning rod in local school board meeting and national politics in recent years.

The Florida Department of Education put the districts on notice last month when it sent superintendents letters detailing the policies and procedures that each of their districts “may not comport with Florida law.”

The law, titled Parental Rights in Education, but which critics have dubbed “don’t say gay,” prohibits classroom instruction and discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade — and in older grades if they are not “age appropriate or developmentally appropriate.”

Many of the policies the state has flagged offer protections to LGBTQ students who confide personal information to school employees by requiring their consent to divulge aspects of their sexual orientation and gender identity to guardians and parents.

Related: Florida prods Hillsborough schools on policies regarding race, LGBTQ students

In letters sent Nov. 18, Senior Chancellor Jacob Oliva flagged a range of policies and procedures at the 10 school districts and requested a status update on those policies by Friday. In addition to Miami-Dade, Broward and Hillsborough, letters were also sent to Alachua, Brevard, Duval, Indian River, Leon, Palm Beach and the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind.

The State Board of Education will meet on Wednesday.

Some of the policies that were flagged by the state include “best practices” policies for school personnel to not disclose the sexual orientation or gender identity of students without their input or permission; policies that say all students should be referred to by the gender pronouns and name that is consistent with their gender identity, and rules that allow students to access locker rooms and restroom that are consistent with their gender identity.

The state has also raised questions about a “racial equity policy” at the Indian River County School District. The district’s policy says it is meant to confront “the institutional racism that results in predictably lower academic achievements for students of color than for their white peers.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis has targeted such policies as he declares Florida to be the state where “woke goes to die.” During a federal court trial last week, DeSantis’ general counsel, Ryan Newman, said the term “woke” refers to the “belief there are systemic injustices in America society and the need to address them.”

Related: Why Andrew Warren might lose his lawsuit against DeSantis — and why he might not

In Miami-Dade, the state has zeroed in on policies that aim to support transgender and “gender expansive students” in sports, locker rooms, and manners that pertain to which pronouns students want to use and what private information they want to disclose.

In Broward County, policies that aim to create a “safe space for LGBTQ+ students” have come under the microscope. The state wants to hear the status of five policies, including one that says “it is never appropriate to divulge the sexual orientation of a student to a parent without the student’s consent.”

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And in Hillsborough County, the state is asking the district to provide an update on two policies: a “racial equity” policy that aim to increase academic achievement for “ALL students,” and LGBTQ policies that deal with “coming out and confidentiality.”

The meeting will be held via conference call and webcast on The Florida Channel.