SPRING HILL, Fla. — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday signed the controversial "Parental Rights In Education" measure — dubbed the "Don't Say Gay" bill by critics — into law.
The highly contentious legislation bans classroom instruction on "sexual orientation or gender identity" in kindergarten through third grade, or "in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards."
SPECIAL COVERAGE: Education
Speaking at Classical Preparatory School in Spring Hill on Monday afternoon, DeSantis said the bill will give parents more control and authority over how their children learn about sexuality and gender identity.
"The last couple years have really revealed to parents that they are being ignored increasingly across our country when it comes to their kids' education," DeSantis said.
WATCH GOVERNOR'S COMMENTS:
Palm Beach County parent Erin Lovely spoke at Monday's news conference, saying her trust was shattered last year when a teacher in her son's second grade class at Marsh Pointe Elementary School in Palm Beach Gardens read students a book titled "Call Me Max" about a transgender boy.
"After she finished the book, [my son] raised his hand and he said, no, this isn't right. This is not who God made you to be," Lovely said. "And [the teacher] disagreed with him and said, no, you can be whatever you want to be if you have an imagination."
Lovely said when she raised concerns about the book to the school's principal, she was told "Call Me Max" is required by the School District of Palm Beach County to be in public schools.
"They have the choice to read them or not, but it's a district requirement," Lovely said.
The parent added that students at Marsh Pointe Elementary School were given extra credit for making certain "medical choices," but did not specify what those choices entailed.
Lovely said the incident pushed her to pull her son out of the public school system and homeschool him instead.
"This is something that you're putting into classroom curriculum for 5-year-old, 6-year-old, 7-year-old kids," DeSantis argued about the book. "That is not something that's appropriate."
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DeSantis on Monday claimed school districts in Palm Beach and five other Florida counties had policies to cut parents out of decisions regarding their child's well-being and to "shield them from knowing about various forms of mental health services."
In addition, he asserted the Martin County School District had a gender transition plan that could be implemented without a parent's consent.
Despite the governor's claims, a spokesperson for the Martin County School District said "MCSD does not have any policies or procedures in place that are not aligned with the new legislation. We have monitored the bill very closely and will continue to adhere to the requirements of Florida law as it pertains to parent notification."
The School District of Palm Beach County released the following statement to WPTV about the new law:
"The School District of Palm Beach County will follow the direction of the Florida Department of Education as it implements the Parental Bill of Rights in Education measure, while continuing to maintain a safe and welcoming learning environment for our students.
While the law does not take effect until July 1, 2022, the District will undertake a comprehensive curriculum review in advance and remove any books or materials that do not align with the new legislation."
"In Florida, we not only know that parents have a right to be involved, we insist that parents have a right to be involved," DeSantis said. "We will make sure that parents can send their kids to school to get an education, not an indoctrination."
Critics, however, feel the "Parental Rights In Education" bill is discriminatory and threatens the acceptance and inclusion of LGBTQ students in public schools.
The Florida Education Association — the state's largest teachers' union — called the passage of the bill a "political stunt" on DeSantis' part.
"Parents are central to their children’s education, and that was true long before the governor signed 'Don’t Say Gay' into law," said FEA President Andrew Spar in a written statement. "Parents, teachers, school staff and administrators are part of the same team. We all want to make sure each student gets the education they deserve and need, regardless of that child’s race, background, ZIP code or ability."
The FEA said the bill "unnecessarily attempts to prohibit what is not taught — namely curriculum regarding sexuality in elementary classrooms."
"This law is a political stunt meant to divert attention from the real needs of our students," Spar said. "Our kids need teachers and staff. Florida has a huge shortage of both. The governor and lawmakers should be focused on how to retain and recruit more educators for our public schools."
U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-Florida, released the following statement to WPTV about the law's passage:
"School should be a nurturing environment for kids to learn and grow, where all students feel welcomed and supported. The 'Don’t Say Gay' bill will make it harder for students to receive information essential to their well-being and put LGBTQ+ children at risk to bullying and mistreatment.
The 'Don’t Say Gay' bill prohibits any classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in primary schools and restricts these conversations throughout high school to 'appropriate' discussion. This purposely vague language will allow parents to sue school districts, teachers, and schools that bring up 'inappropriate' LGBTQ+ related issues, effectively censoring educators and excluding LGBTQ+ history, information, and students from Florida’s school system."
The Walt Disney Company, which was criticized by many of its employees for not taking a strong enough stance against the legislation at first, posted on Twitter Monday that the bill "should never have passed and should never have been signed into law."
The company called for a repeal of the law, saying the company is "dedicated to standing up for the rights and safety of LGBTQ+ members of the Disney family, as well as the LGBTQ+ family in Florida and across the country."
Statement from The Walt Disney Company on signing of Florida legislation: pic.twitter.com/UVI7Ko3aKS— Walt Disney Company (@WaltDisneyCo) March 28, 2022
Last month, the Palm Beach County School Board voted to send a letter to Florida lawmakers, officially denouncing the bill and calling it "worrisome."
In the letter, Superintendent Mike Burke and all seven school board members said they "stand firmly against any legislation that would compromise acceptance and respect for our students based on race, religion, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, or any other demographic targeted for discriminatory exclusion."
The group added in the letter that "LGBTQ matters are conversations for older students" and are not discussed in primary grades — meaning elementary school — within the School District of Palm Beach County.
Despite the governor's assertion that lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity are being taught to young students, a review of the state's current educational standards appears to tell a different story.
The CPALMS standards from the Florida Department of Education show all of the educational benchmarks that public school teachers must meet and follow.
Under the "Health Education" category, nowhere does it mention anything about sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade.
Some of the health-related topics that are taught to students in those age groups include brushing your teeth and covering your mouth for a cough and sneeze.
LGBTQ+ advocates at Equality Florida said they’re ready to go with a court challenge, possibly as early as this week.
"We are prepared to take legal action the second [DeSantis] signs this bill," said Michael Womack, the communications manager for Equality Florida. "Should this bill be interpreted in any way that causes harm to a child, a teacher, or a family in our state, we will take legal action against the state of Florida and correct this wrong."
The "Parental Rights In Education" law also ensures that parents will be notified at beginning of each school year about health care services offered at their child's school, and can then decline to receive those services if they want.
The "Parental Rights In Education" law goes into effect on July 1.