TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A controversial education bill that bans the instruction of sexual orientation and gender identity for certain students in Florida schools was passed by the state Senate on Tuesday and will now head to Gov. Ron DeSantis to become law.
HB 1557/SB 1834 — formally called the "Parental Rights In Education" measure, but more commonly known as the "Don't Say Gay" bill — was passed mostly along party lines, 22 to 17.
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According to the contentious bill, "classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards."
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Supporters argued 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 know how important it is to empower parents," said Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Lady Lake, who sponsored the bill. "I want to encourage parents across Florida to own it! They're your kids. And it is tough. It's tough to figure out what influences will be on them and what kind of decisions they will make."
The Florida Senate started debating the measure around 9 a.m. Tuesday and passed the legislation about three hours later. The bill will now head to DeSantis, who has repeatedly expressed his support for the curriculum changes.
"Clearly, right now, we see a lot of focus on the transgenderism, telling kids that they may be able to pick genders and all that. I don't think parents want that for these young kids," DeSantis said during a news conference in Jacksonville on March 4. "I think it's inappropriate to be injecting those matters, like transgenderism, into a kindergarten classroom."
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Critics, however, feel the bill is discriminatory and threatens the acceptance and inclusion of LGBTQ students in public schools.
"It's very clear that there's a lot of angst, anxiety, fear, and frustration from the LGBTQ community," said Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton. "It's because [the bill] sends a message that they don't matter, that they need to be hidden, that it shouldn't be talked about, and that there should be shame."
Last month, the Palm Beach County School Board voted to send a letter to Florida lawmakers, officially denouncing the "Don't Say Gay" 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.
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The Florida Senate on Monday debated more than a dozen proposed amendments which would've broadened the language in the "Parental Rights In Education" bill by banning classroom instruction on "human sexuality."
However, after hours of discussion, Florida senators rejected all amendments to the measure.
Opponents said a legal challenge is next if DeSantis does put pen to paper, and they're urging him to refrain.
"We hope that the governor will do the right thing and avoid that outcome and the costly litigation that will face the state," said Jon Harris Maurer with Equality Florida.
Florida's current Legislative Session is scheduled to end on Friday.
Once the "Parental Rights In Education" bill is signed into law by DeSantis, the curriculum changes will go into effect on July 1.