By BETHANY BLANKLEY
THE CENTER SQUARE CONTRIBUTOR
(The Center Square) — The Florida House of Representatives passed a bill supporters say gives more protections to parents.
The bill also would allow parents to sue schools if they violate provisions of the bill.
Numerous media outlets and opponents of the bill , including President Joe Biden, claim the bill is “anti-gay,” or uses the words “don’t say gay” to suggest it’s anti-LGBTQ.
Nearly three weeks ago, the White House issued a statement saying the bill was hateful: “… conservative politicians in Florida advanced legislation designed to attack LGBTQI+ kids. Instead of making growing up harder for young people, (the president) is focused on keeping schools open and supporting students’ mental health.”
“I want every member of the LGBTQI+ community — especially the kids who will be impacted by this hateful bill — to know that you are loved and accepted just as you are,” President Biden tweeted. “I have your back, and my Administration will continue to fight for the protections and safety you deserve.”
A review of the seven-page bill by The Center Square reveals no such attacking language exists, and the bill never uses the word “gay.”
Sponsored by Republicans Speaker Pro Tem Bryan Avila of Miami Springs and Joe Harding of Ocala, the bill would require schools to teach children age-appropriate material and to provide parents access to their children’s records and involve them in the decisions about mental health and other services offered for their children.
It would prohibit instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity from being taught to children in kindergarten through third grade. It also requires that instruction starting at fourth grade and beyond be age and developmentally appropriate.
The bill states, “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.”
“I am sure that most parents would agree when we say that 5- and 6-year-olds should not be exposed to sensitive topics in the classroom and that parents should decide when to address those subjects with their child,” House Speaker Chris Sprowls said. “This should not have been controversial, but advocates and their allies spun a false narrative that many bought into.”
Critics say misinformation about the bill has gotten so bad that its sponsors published a column to set the record straight, saying, “… let’s address the fact that just about every newspaper headline has called HB 1557 the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill. You know what’s not in any of the bill text? The words ‘gay’ and ‘say.’”
The bill also would require school boards to notify parents if there’s a change in their child’s services or monitoring related to their mental, emotional, or physical health and well-being or the school’s ability to provide a safe and supportive learning environment. It also ensures that parents have access to their child’s education and health records.
It “empowers parents to play an active and present role in their child’s schooling,” Rep. Harding said. “Nobody knows Florida students better than their parents, and this bill will help them support children in their development.”
Democratic Rep. Mike Grieco said the bill attacks LGBTQ people, calling it “an anti-gay bill.” He said those who voted for it can “never ever claim to be an ally of the LGBTQ community” because they are “voting to be an opponent.”
Rep. Harding told the Tampa Bay Times, “I want folks that oppose the bill to be really clear on what they’re actually opposing. I want them to go on record to say it’s OK for a 6-year-old to have one identity in school and one at home because the school encourages that kind of behavior.”
Florida House Republicans also put out a fact sheet on Twitter, stating, “A lot has been written and said about HB 1557, and most of it is wrong. Here is a fact check on the inaccurate tag line ‘Don’t Say Gay.’”
The fact sheet states, “Fiction: The bill bans the word ‘gay’ in classrooms. Fact: Absolutely false; this bill bans classroom instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation in kindergarten through 3rd grade and requires age and developmentally appropriate instruction in accordance with state standards for other grades.”
The bill also would stipulate that school districts “may not adopt procedures or student support forms” that ban staff from “notifying a parent about his or her student’s mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being.”
Staff also “may not discourage or prohibit parental notification of and involvement in critical decisions affecting a student’s mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being,” the bill states.
The bill passed by a vote of 69–47. It’s companion bill, SB 1834, must also be passed in the state Senate before it can go to Gov. Ron DeSantis to consider.
If passed and signed, the new law would be effective in July ahead of the 2022–2023 school year.