School districts previously flagged by state now in compliance with parental rights law

LGBTQ youth
New policies enacted specify bathroom and locker room usage procedures.

A law that more tightly restricts public schools’ approach to gender identity and sexual orientation has caused school districts to pull LGBTQ support guides and restrict some students’ use of bathrooms and locker rooms to gender assigned at birth.

Those are some of the changes presented to the State Board of Education Wednesday as the Board heard a report of how 10 school districts are complying with the controversial law (HB 1557) passed during the last regular Session. The law is officially called, “Parental Rights in Education,” but critics have dubbed it the “Don’t Say Gay” law.

The 10 school districts had been warned by letter last month that they have policies that might not comply with the new law, as the Miami Herald first reported. The law specifically prohibits instruction and discussion about sexual orientation in kindergarten through third grade, and only permits “age-appropriate” discussions and instruction of the subject in higher grade levels.

Each of the flagged districts — Alachua, Broward, Brevard, Duval, Hillsborough, Indian River, Leon, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind — responded to the inquiry, state documents show. And the responses appear to have satisfied the Department of Education (DOE).

“Ultimately we found that these districts are in compliance with the law,” said Tom Grady, Chairman of the state Board of Education.

Among the actions since the law went into effect:

— Numerous school districts among the 10 have pulled their Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning + Critical Support Guide. Other districts, such as Broward and Miami-Dade counties, said guides the state had flagged for noncompliance were no longer in use.

— Alachua County and Brevard County School Boards both passed rules in November that require students use bathrooms and locker rooms based on biological sex assigned at birth only. Exceptions can be made if parents have given their permission to do otherwise.

— The Palm Beach County School Board revised its district “equity statement.” That revision cut the district’s 194-word equity statement in half by deleting words about dismantling racism and systems of oppression, The Palm Beach Post reported.

The only questions that came up during the Wednesday report involved whether the process of School Boards getting into compliance with parental notification and other policies could be sped up.

Grady warned the school Superintendents on the telephonic hearing that they could be subject to lawsuits from parents between now and when they have the new policies that comport with HB 1557 in place. Broward County reported the latest date — March 31 — for when new policies that solidified compliance with the law would come to the Broward County School Board for approval.

Broward County Superintendent Vickie Cartwright — whose dismissal from her job last month was rescinded Monday — said she hoped the policy would be updated sooner. But Grady had a warning for Broward schools and all other school districts scheduled to update their policies.

“Parents could challenge the existing regulation, even though it’s in the process of being updated, right?” Grady said.

After DOE Senior Chancellor Jacob Oliva confirmed it was so, Grady said, “I think it’s clear to me that not only Broward, but other districts have a pretty significant incentive to move as quickly as possible, certainly prior to March 31, in order to revise those procedures to avoid that type of a challenge.”

Lawsuits challenging the law’s legality have been filed and, so far, rejected.

The latest news about how school districts are complying with the law has brought to fruition some fears of the law’s critics, according to tweets from Equality Florida, an LGBTQ civil rights organization that opposed the law.

“Costly litigation, teacher shortages & chaos are the inevitable results of the far-right driving conservative politics today,” the organization tweeted from its account last month when Brevard County approved its new bathroom policy. “And it’s children who suffer the costs.”

But Grady, at Wednesday’s meeting, highlighted how the law is empowering parents.

“I think this is a good time to just very quickly note …  Florida has ranked No. 1 in the nation for parents’ involvement in education,” Grady said, noting the accolade announced Tuesday from the Center for Education Reform. “And that’s really what this … item is about.”

Anne Geggis

Anne Geggis is a South Florida journalist who began her career in Vermont and has worked at the Sun-Sentinel, the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Gainesville Sun covering government issues, health and education. She was a member of the Sun-Sentinel team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Parkland high school shooting. You can reach her on Twitter @AnneBoca or by emailing [email protected].

One comment

  • Becca

    December 14, 2022 at 2:58 pm

    War Is Peace
    Freedom is Slavery
    Ignorance is Strength

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