When the law was first signed into effect last year by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, it limited instruction about these topics to students in kindergarten through third grade, while prohibiting it from being taught in a way that was not considered age appropriate in all other grades. However, the Florida State Education Board has now voted to extend the ban through high school. It specifies that outside of reproductive or health-related courses, this type of instruction is not considered appropriate regardless of the students' age.
Any teacher who is caught violating the policy could face penalties ranging from a suspension to the revocation of their teaching license.
DeSantis said: “Gender ideology has no place in our K through 12 school system. It’s wrong for a teacher to tell a student that they may have been born in the wrong body or that their gender is a choice and so we don’t let that happen in Florida.”
Not surprisingly, many mainstream media outlets reported that Florida instituted an outright ban on all discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools, but this is a misrepresentation of what the bill actually states.
For example, CNN used the misleading headline “Florida bans teaching of gender identity and sexual orientation through 12th grade.”
However, the bill does not institute an outright ban. Instead, middle and high school teachers cannot “intentionally” teach students about these matters unless it is part of the curriculum of a reproductive health class or otherwise “expressly required” by Florida academic standards. These discussions are still permitted when required for reproductive health courses, and parents can opt students out of these courses if they wish.
While the law does govern classroom instruction, it does not ban discussions about these topics when they come up naturally.
Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. noted that the new rule aims to clarify some of the confusion surrounding the existing law and emphasized that teachers cannot deviate from the existing curriculum.
He explained: “We're not removing anything here. All we are doing is we are setting the expectations, so our teachers are clear: that they are to teach to the standards.”
The law has also been at the center of an ongoing battle between DeSantis and Disney. Last year, the company released a statement opposing the restrictions, and the two parties are now feuding over this and other matters.
Many groups support the rule, praising it for encouraging conversations about these matters to take place at home rather than in school, strengthening familial relationships.
However, others have voiced their opposition to it. White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre referred to the rule as “dystopian,” saying: “Censoring our classrooms is not how public education is supposed to work in a free country. Conservative politicians love to complain about the so-called cancel culture, all while threatening teachers with losing their jobs if they teach something that MAGA extremists don’t agree with.”
Some LGBTQ advocates have even gone so far as to claim that the rule change could put teachers’ careers at risk, but Diaz Jr. disagrees.
“The curriculum and the standards taught in an academic classroom have nothing to do with the school’s compassion and being able to provide services to individual students,” he said at a meeting. “They’re not being shunned; none of this is being addressed here.”
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