Written by Breanna Edwards
Edited by Annika Lilja
WHAT IS IT?
HB 1557: Parental Rights in Education, more commonly known as the “Don’t Say Gay Bill,” is a controversial new law recently passed in Florida state. The bill was proposed by Republican representatives Joseph Harding and David Borrero in January of 2022. It describes itself as, “an act relating to parental rights in education.” The bill emphasizes parents’ rights to information on the education of their children, specifically with healthcare, mental health, gender, and sexuality.
PARENT ACCESS AND INFORMATION
The bill’s focus is on parents’ right to access information about their children’s education, healthcare, and so on. The bill states that no information should be withheld from parents and prohibits school boards from implementing laws that may do so.
This quote from the final draft of the bill goes into more detail:
“[The bill is] Requiring district school boards to adopt procedures that comport with certain provisions of law for notifying a student's parent of specified information; requiring such procedures to reinforce the fundamental right of parents to make decisions regarding the upbringing and control of their children in a specified manner; prohibiting the procedures from prohibiting a parent from accessing certain records; providing construction; prohibiting a school district from adopting procedures or student support forms that prohibit school district personnel from notifying a parent about specified information or that encourage or have the effect of encouraging a student to withhold from a parent such information; prohibiting school district personnel from discouraging or prohibiting parental notification and involvement in critical decisions affecting a student's mental, emotional, or physical well-being;”
It also requires “...school districts to notify parents of healthcare services and provide parents the opportunity to consent or decline such services.” The healthcare services discussed are not specified.
The most recent draft of the bill prohibits “classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in certain grade levels,” later specifying that the specific grade levels in which no sexual/gender identity can be discussed are Kindergarten through third grade.
In regards to parent’s access to information, it outlines the following:
“Before administering a student well-being questionnaire or health screening form to a student in kindergarten through grade 3, the school district must provide the questionnaire or health screening form to the parent and obtain the permission of the parent.”
GENDER AND SEXUALITY
The bill is, “Prohibiting classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in certain grade levels or in a specified manner;” It goes on to specify, “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.” The bill does not provide more information on what it considers to be “age-appropriate,” but does specify that state standards will be outlined later by the Florida Board of Education.
RESPONSE TO PARENTAL CONCERN
The bill also empowers parents and guardians to take action against school boards they believe to be violating the other provisions listed in the bill. It requires school boards to “…adopt certain procedures for resolving specified parental concerns; requiring resolution within a specified timeframe; requiring the Commissioner of Education to appoint a special magistrate for unresolved concerns; providing requirements for the special magistrate; requiring the State Board of Education to approve or reject the special magistrate's recommendation within specified timeframe; requiring school districts to bear the costs of the special magistrate; requiring the State Board of Education to adopt rules; providing requirements for such rules; authorizing a parent to bring an action against a school district to obtain a declaratory judgment that a school district procedure or practice violates certain provisions of law; providing for the additional award of injunctive relief, damages, and reasonable attorney fees and court costs to certain parents; requiring school district to adopt policies to notify parents of certain rights; providing construction; requiring the department to review and update, as necessary, specified materials by a certain date; providing an effective date.”
January 11, 2022: Bill Introduced by Rep. Joe Harding
March 8, 2022: Bill Passes State Congress
The bill now needs to be signed by Florida governor Ron DeSantis, who has said in the past that he supports the bill and is expected to sign it into state law.
By June 30, 2023: “The Department of Education is required to review and update, as necessary, school counseling frameworks and standards; educator practices and professional conduct principles; and any other student services personnel guidelines, standards, or frameworks in accordance with the requirements of this act.”
July 1, 2022: If passed, law takes effect.
The first draft of the bill was published January 11, 2021. It is almost half the size of the most recent bill (four and seven pages, respectively). The later draft essentially elaborates and fills out first, adding information on how parents can take action against violating school boards and how school boards should respond. The earlier draft is also much stricter on classroom discussions on gender and sexuality, prompting a volley of national protests. The first draft reads as follows, “[This bill] prohibits a school district from encouraging classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in primary grade levels or in a specified manner.” This restriction is loosened in the last draft to say, “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.”
An amendment added to a later draft and then repealed for the most recent version of the bill would require teachers and school staff to out their queer students to their parents, as worded below:
“Based solely on child-specific information personally known to the school personnel and as documented and approved by the school principal or his or her designee. The school principal or his or her designee shall develop a plan, using all available governmental resources, to disclose such information within weeks after the decision to withhold such information from the parent. The plan must facilitate disclosure between the student and parent through an open dialogue in a safe, supportive, and judgment-free environment that respects.”
There was viral outrage over this amendment and it does not appear on the bill which passed the Florida state senate.
It doesn’t take an activist or a lawyer to see that the bill is vague in its requirements, allowing a lot of potential ‘wiggle-room’ which could give teachers of all grade levels the ability to censor books and other media and curricula with queer characters/themes, inform parents of their children’s sexual identity (although it is not required in the passed draft, certain guidelines would allow staff to use the bill to justify such action), and further limit children’s and even teens access to information on sexual and gender identity. The bill requires sexuality education to be given “a specified manner,” requiring teachers who do teach about gender/sexual identity to “...adhere to standards established by the Department of Education; requiring school districts to notify parents of healthcare services and provide parents the opportunity to consent or decline such services.” This seems to be very vague, allowing the Florida Department of Education to set standards that may or may not heavily censor or distort LGBTQ education. This, along with the removed provisions mentioned in the above section (“AMENDMENTS”), has sparked nationwide controversy from many LGBTQ+ groups and allies. The bill also requires “district school boards to adopt procedures that comport with certain provisions of law for notifying a student's parent of specified information; requiring such procedures to reinforce the fundamental right of parents to make decisions regarding the upbringing and control of their children in a specified manner.” What information is not specified, but teachers and staff may interpret it as allowing them to share information such as a child’s sexuality with parents. Overall, the final draft of the bill does not seem to state anything specifically dangerous for queer students, but it potentially empowers and enables staff and teachers to censor and persecute LGBTQ+ students and distort sexuality in the classroom.
“CS/CS/HB 1557: Parental Rights in Education.” Florida State Senate. https://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2022/1557/?Tab=BillText. Updated 08 Mar. 22.
Florida State, Congress, House. “HB 1557: Parental Rights in Education.” Flsenate.gov. https://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2022/1557/BillText/Filed/PDF. 117th Congress, Introduced 11 Jan. 22.
Florida State, Congress, House.“HB 1557: Parental Rights in Education.” Flsenate.gov. https://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2022/1557/Amendment/853565/PDF. 117th Congress, Introduced 18 Feb. 22.
Florida State, Congress, House. “HB 1557: Parental Rights in Education.” Flsenate.gov. https://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2022/1557/BillText/er/PDF. 117th Congress, Introduced 08 Mar. 22.