What’s ahead for Florida students, parents after passage of ‘don’t say gay’ bill?

Questions remain about the effect of this controversial bill in classrooms.
Demonstrators protest inside the Florida State Capitol, Monday, March 7, 2022, in Tallahassee. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Demonstrators protest inside the Florida State Capitol, Monday, March 7, 2022, in Tallahassee. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee) [ WILFREDO LEE | AP ]
Published March 9, 2022|Updated March 10, 2022

TALLAHASSEE — Florida teachers could soon be turning to Tallahassee for direction to try and figure out what they can and can’t do with their lesson plans, in particular, those related to gender identity and sexual orientation.

That’s because educators are likely to face a new law barring classroom instruction on those subjects from kindergarten through third grade. They won’t be allowed to teach those subjects in other grades in a way that is not age- or developmentally appropriate, as determined by state standards.

The Legislature on Tuesday passed the “Parental Rights in Education” bill — which opponents have dubbed the “don’t say gay” bill. The bill now awaits Gov. Ron DeSantis’ signature to become law.

Related: Florida's 'don't say gay' bill passed, headed to DeSantis amid student protests

In practice, it is unclear exactly how things will change in the classroom because sexual orientation and gender identity is not something that is being taught in grades K-3 at the moment. But what is certain is that the state Department of Education will be required to review and update educator practices and professional conduct principles, and other standards, by June 2023.

What can students expect?

While lawmakers said the proposed changes to classroom instruction should not impact student-led discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity, some teachers worry those discussions could be chilled.

K-3 students are not taught about sex education. But conversations about families do come up in those grade levels, such as assignments about a family tree.

As explained by lawmakers, those lesson plans would still be allowed if the assignments prompt a discussion about a student’s LGBTQ family member.

In a nutshell, lawmakers say classroom discussions led by students on those subjects will not be impacted.

Related: Florida's 'don't say gay' bills, explained

What can parents expect?

The idea that parents are paramount in Florida schools is the reason why Florida lawmakers pushed the bill in the first place.

So, the proposed measure intends to empower parents the most.

Parents could expect to get more information from schools about their children’s health and welfare, as well as any changes to services provided to their student.

For instance, schools would not be allowed to keep information from parents about their children’s mental, emotional or physical well-being unless school personnel believe such a disclosure would “result in abuse, abandonment, or neglect” at home.

Parents who are unhappy about what their child is being taught in school on those subjects will have options to bring a complaint:

  • They may bring the concern to the district for resolution.
  • If the district does not resolve their concern, they can have the matter reviewed by the State Board of Education.
  • Or they can hire a lawyer and file a lawsuit against the public school district.

What happens in Tallahassee now?

The bill passed the Senate mostly along party lines on Tuesday, a day after more than a dozen amendments were rejected by the Republican majority in the Senate. Two Republican senators — Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg and Jennifer Bradley of Fleming Island — opposed the measure, as did seven Republicans in the House.

The same bill passed the House largely along party lines last month. In total, nine Republicans voted against the bill and one Democrat voted in favor.

It now heads to DeSantis, who has backed the measure and is likely to sign the bill into law.

“We are going to make sure that parents are able to send their kids to kindergarten without having some of this stuff injected into their school curriculum,” DeSantis told reporters Monday.

Tampa Bay Times reporter Jeffrey S. Solochek contributed to this report.

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