UPDATE: March 28, 2022: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the controversial "Parental Rights in Education" bill Monday, barring public school teachers in the state from having classroom instruction about sexual orientation or gender identity.
The Florida Senate on Tuesday passed the “Parental Rights in Education” bill, dubbed by opponents as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, sending it to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk. DeSantis, who has previously supported the measure, is expected to sign the legislation.
The measure would prevent “classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in primary grade levels or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.” The bill does not define the terms “age appropriate” or “developmentally appropriate.” However, Florida Rep. Joe Harding, co-sponsor of the bill, said it would apply to students in grades K-3.
The news was met with immediate pushback from civil rights organizations and U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, who said in a statement that Florida leaders “are prioritizing hateful bills that hurt some of the students most in need.”
Cardona also reminded schools receiving federal funds that they are obligated to follow civil rights law, including Title IX protections for LGBTQ students.
“We stand with our LGBTQ+ students in Florida and across the country, and urge Florida leaders to make sure all their students are protected and supported,” Cardona said in a statement.
News of the bill’s passage by both chambers of the Florida Legislature comes less than a month after the U.S. Department of Education advanced a draft of its proposed Title IX amendments to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs and the Department of Justice. That is among the last steps before release of the draft to the public, as the OIRA office is the part of the Office of Management and Budget responsible for coordinating review of all executive branch regulations.
The rules are expected to be in line with some of President Joe Biden’s earliest executive orders, which called for an educational enviornment free from discrimination on the basis of sex — including gender identity and sexual orientation — and preventing and combatting discrimination on the basis of both.
“As President Biden stated, ‘all students should be guaranteed an educational environment free from discrimination on the basis of sex, which encompasses sexual violence, and including discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity,’” Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for the Office for Civil Rights, wrote in an update on Feb. 18. “Within the Office for Civil Rights, we are guided by those words; they are at the heart of the mission of our office, and we take seriously our charge to fulfill the promise embodied in Federal civil rights laws.”
The department’s swift response to the Florida legislation adds to its history of steady support for LGBTQ students, which began as early as Cardona’s confirmation hearings when he called it the “legal responsibility” of schools to protect all students’ civil rights.
On Monday, Cardona told K-12 Dive he was "not going to stand by idly" as LGBTQ students are marginalized. "We're going to lift up their voices and make sure that they recognize that our schools are for them and that they have the same opportunity any other students have,” he said. “So not only in funding, but in policy and how we use the bully pulpit."