PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — In a unanimous show of solidarity, the Palm Beach County School Board on Wednesday evening officially denounced the controversial so-called "Don't Say Gay" education bill that's working its way through the Florida Legislature.
School board members voted 7-0 to send a letter to state legislators, voicing their "displeasure" with HB 1557 and SB 1834, both officially called the "Parental Rights In Education" measure.
"The most important issue here for me is that we are protecting our children, all our children, and that everyone should feel welcome and accepted in school," said School Board Member Erica Whitfield.
The bills ban "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."
Supporters argue the legislation gives parents more control over what their children learn in school, and also allows students to focus more on subjects like reading and math, and not gender identity.
"I'm very concerned about some of the legislation that's coming down," Whitfield said. "And I think it's important for us as a board to stand strong with our community and say that this doesn't fit in Palm Beach County schools."
WATCH SCHOOL BOARD MEETING:
SPECIAL COVERAGE: Education
The Palm Beach County School Board on Wednesday voted to send a letter to Florida lawmakers, calling the bills "worrisome" and saying they "threaten the ideals of inclusion."
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.
READ THE LETTER:
"All of our children are so important," said School Board Member Marcia Andrews. "We cannot afford to divide our children."
In the letter, the Palm Beach County School Board also took issue with HB 7, which the letter said "represents censorship" and has been criticized for using broad language to ban Critical Race Theory in classrooms.
School Board Member Alexandria Ayala said the potential curriculum changes would be "damaging and harmful" to children, and would also pose challenges for school district teachers.
"This will also create an incredible level of unnecessary work for our educators who do not need another thing on their plate," Ayala said. "Hate has no place in this district. Discrimination has no place in this district."
The full Florida House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on HB 1557 on Thursday. The Senate version still has several committees to go through.
In order for the ban to take effect, both chambers would have to approve the measure before the current legislative session ends on March 11.
If approved, the changes would go into effect on July 1.