The Florida State Board of Education has adopted a series of new rules for public and charter schools that deteriorate protections for LGBTQ+ students. Despite opposition from nearly 100 attendees and over 1,000 messages sent to board members, the new mandates passed in a unanimous vote.
One of the more heinous rules targets trans kids, requiring schools to notify every parent in writing if they permit students to use all-gender facilities. This notification has to include measures for supervision in changing rooms and a detailed list of which facilities are not separated by “biological sex.” Additionally, those schools must still include single-sex facilities that are off-limits to trans students, with no specified measures for supervision.
Similarly, school districts are now required to supply a full list of any books or media made accessible to K-5 students. According to the Board’s press release, the purpose is to eliminate “inappropriate, indoctrinating and pornographic materials in libraries and classrooms.” This mirrors the language of other conservative “Curriculum Censorship Bills” targeting materials that speak on race, gender, or sexuality.
Finally, the mandate prohibits classroom discussions of “sexual orientation or gender identity” to grades K-3. On its surface, this is an enforcement of the “Don’t Say Gay” law passed in Florida earlier this year. The difference is that teachers found in violation can have their licenses revoked.
This contradicts recent court interpretations of the “Don’t Say Gay” law. According to US District Judge Allen Winsor, the law penalizes school districts, not individual teachers. That interpretation played a large part in his justification for rejecting a challenge to the law.
This is the culmination of a long campaign led by Florida Republicans. Governor and likely 2024 presidential candidate Ron DeSantis has made the policing of school districts under so-called parental rights a core part of his administration. Mother Jones reports that in August, DeSantis went on an “Education Agenda Tour” across the state, endorsing a number of candidates for school boards. At one rally, DeSantis said, “If I could have a conservative majority on every school board in the country, we would be in such good shape.” 19 of the 30 candidates he endorsed were elected, with 6 others headed for runoffs.
In spite of these attacks, LGBTQ+ advocacy group Equality Florida has vowed to fight the new measures. “The Board of Education’s facilities separation rule does not and cannot prevent transgender students from accessing facilities aligned with their gender identity — we know Federal law and the constitution protect these rights,” said Equality Florida’s Senior Political Director Joe Saunders in a statement.
“Florida school districts have been following federal law for more than a decade, establishing policies we know will continue to work long after this politically-motivated proposed rule. What it does do is attempt to bully and intimidate districts that are providing these accommodations. Ron DeSantis’ war on transgender Floridians must end. All students deserve access to school facilities that are inclusive and safe.”