Florida rule could restrict class instruction on sexual orientation through 12th grade

On Aug. 17, 2022, music plays from a speaker as buses and parents drop off students for the first day at Miami Carol City Senior High School in Miami Gardens.

Florida middle school and high school teachers would be further restricted from teaching about sexual orientation or gender identity under a proposed rule backed by the DeSantis administration that, if approved, would go beyond what state law currently requires. The rule, which will be considered by the State Board of Education next month, says teachers in grades 4 to 12 “shall not intentionally provide classroom instruction” on those topics — unless the lessons are “expressly required” by the state’s academic standards or are part of a reproductive health course. Education Commissioner Manny Diaz, the head of the Florida Department of Education, signed off on the proposed rule, which is scheduled for a vote on April 19. If the board approves the rule, teachers who violate it could be suspended or see their teaching license revoked.

The proposed rule would go beyond the Parental Rights in Education law — dubbed by critics as “Don’t Say Gay” — that prohibits classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, and older grades in cases when the lessons are deemed to be not “age appropriate.” The law, which Gov. Ron DeSantis signed last year, has led some teachers to question what conversations are appropriate and to be more careful when discussing certain topics as Republican leaders and conservative parents and groups more actively scrutinize education-related content. Supporters of the restrictions, however, have said the law is aimed at classroom instruction, not conversations about those topics when they naturally come up. Republican lawmakers this year are advancing legislation that would expand the law. They want to prohibit instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade — and if such instruction is offered in grades 9 through 12, they want it to be appropriate or developmentally appropriate according to the state’s standards.

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