Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

As Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law takes effect, schools roll out LGBTQ restrictions

As Florida’s Parental Rights in Education law — or what critics have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law —  comes into effect Friday, some of the state’s public school districts have begun rolling out new policies to limit LGBTQ issues and identities from being discussed in the classroom.

On Tuesday night, the Leon County School Board unanimously approved its “LGBTQ Inclusive School Guide,” which includes a provision to alert parents if a student who is “open about their gender identity” is in their child’s physical education class or with them on an overnight school trip.

“Upon notification or determination of a student who is open about their gender identity, parents of the affected students will be notified of reasonable accommodation options available,” the guidelines read. “Parents or students who have concerns about rooming assignments for their student’s upcoming overnight event based on religious or privacy concerns may request an accommodation.”

Representatives of the Orange County Classroom Teachers Association accused school officials Monday of verbally warning educators not to wear rainbow articles of clothing, to remove pictures of their same-sex spouses from their desks and to remove LGBTQ safe space stickers from classroom doors. The district’s legal department confirmed in a statement provided to the teachers’ association that covers the Orlando area that staff who come into contact with students in kindergarten through third grade were cautioned concerning LGBTQ issues.

And late last month, the School District of Palm Beach County sent out a questionnaire to its teachers, asking them to review all course material and flag any books with references to sexual orientation, gender identity or race, a Palm Beach County high school special education teacher, Michael Woods, told NBC News. Several weeks prior, the district removed two books — “I Am Jazz” and “Call Me Max” — which touch upon gender identity, he said.

The so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law, HB 1557, bans “instruction” about sexual orientation or gender identity “in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.” A provision in the law also requires school staff to alert parents on “critical decisions affecting a student’s mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being,” which many advocates have interpreted as a method to force educators to out their gay or trans students. In cases where teachers “believe that disclosure would result in abuse, abandonment, or neglect,” they are exempt from doing so.

Lawmakers who support the legislation — which Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican,  signed in March — have repeatedly stressed that it will only apply to children in kindergarten through third grade and is about giving parents more jurisdiction over their young children’s education. They have also contended that it will not prohibit teachers and students from talking about their LGBTQ families or bar classroom discussions about LGBTQ history, including events like the 2016 attack at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando.

But critics and legal experts have said that the broad language of the law could open school districts and teachers to lawsuits from parents who believe any conversation about LGBTQ people or issues is “not age appropriate.” (Parents will be able to sue school districts for alleged violations, damages or legal fees.)

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