The State Board of Education has approved an array of rule changes, including a measure requiring school districts to inform parents of the presence of student bathrooms that are not separated by biological sex at birth.
The Board of Education adopted a series of rules Wednesday updating school policy to comply with recently passed laws, many of which contemplated school safety, parental rights and LGBTQ issues. Several of the rules were political flashpoints during this year’s Legislative Session, and many of those debates played out again in Orlando in a meeting that, at times, was heated, with Board Chair Tom Grady at one point telling the audience, “this is not a sports event.”
One of the most contentious proposals was a rule requiring schools to notify parents of how bathrooms are designated and how locker rooms and dressing rooms are designated and supervised. Such measures have drawn opposition from the transgender community and their supporters.
“What this rule is about members … it’s parental notification. It’s not mandating what a particular bathroom looks like or doesn’t look like or who can use it. It’s about parental notification,” Grady said. “That’s a constitutional free speech issue, as well, for parents to be notified.”
Dozens of parents, students and advocates on both sides of the issue spoke before the board during its four-hour meeting.
Gov. Ron DeSantis, who appoints members to the Board of Education — including Grady and Education Commissioner Manny Díaz — has aligned himself with groups like Moms for Liberty to promote “parental rights in education” measures. Moms for Liberty Seminole County Chapter Chair Jessica Tillmann told the panel the rule would force districts to be transparent.
“We need to keep our girls safe, and give all students the right to be in a locker room that they feel safe in,” Tillmann said.
Olivia Solomon, a student at the University of Central Florida who identified as the older sister of a “gender-nonconforming” brother, noted the high rates of bullying and suicide facing transgender youth.
“As members of the Board of Education, it is your job to protect all students and ensure their rights to access to proper education,” Solomon said. “I urge you to vote against this and not be their first bullies.”
The Board also adopted a rule to prohibit lessons on sexual orientation or gender identity for students in kindergarten through grade 3. Critics have labeled the legislation that predicated the rule the “Don’t Say Gay” law.
Tiffany Justice, co-founder of Moms for Liberty, said the rule change is about accountability.
“For heaven sakes, we’re talking about teachers who are breaking the law,” Justice said. “Yes, they should lose their license, Commissioner. They should not be allowed to teach in school. If we have activist teachers — and we do, thank you, Libs of TikTok, for showing us the activist teachers who would like to indoctrinate our children. … If we have activist teachers who are breaking the law, they need to be handled and they should not be in a classroom teaching our children.”
During public comment, Carmela Detoma, a high school teacher in Orange County, insisted she, as a teacher, receive more than one minute to speak. Her comments sparked an uproar from the audience as she was gaveled out and escorted from the room.
“You are claiming that we are creating a socialist agenda, but this is a mirage of your own making,” Detoma said.
Grady spoke over Detoma as she continued insisting the Board grant her additional time.
“What happens when your classroom students don’t follow the rules?” he asked.
Another controversial rule bolstered state policy on reviewing instructional material in elementary schools.
Mid-meeting, Grady reminded the audience that the proposed rules stem from legislation, which the Board of Education has no power to change, cannot ignore and must uphold.
“You should be able to tolerate opposing views, as we do, and help us make better rules,” Grady said. “Theater is not helpful in helping us draft better rules.”
The Board meeting comes less than a week after a jury decided that the shooter who killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018 would not receive the death penalty. Díaz lamented the verdict, as have Republicans and Democrats across the state.
“This is a complete miscarriage of justice. In fact, no justice…
Board member Ryan Petty, the father of Parkland victim Alaina Petty, told the panel he was frustrated with the lack of compliance and urgency from some districts, including “ground zero” Broward County, to fully implement guardian programs that would allow school officials to carry firearms.
“At some point, we have to look at what remedies we have as a department and as a Board with regards to sanctions against districts that are not complying with state law,” Petty said.