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Deltona City Commissioner Dana McCool sounded a warning at the March 8 Volusia County School Board meeting about the Florida Legislature’s passage of House Bill 1557.

The bill, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by opponents, prohibits “classroom discussion on sexual orientation or gender identity” in kindergarten through third grade, or talking about those topics in a way that’s age or developmentally inappropriate for students of any age.

The measure also prohibits school districts “from maintaining procedures that withhold information, or encourage students to withhold information” from parents of any age students, according to the bill analysis.

The bill, which awaits the governor’s signature at press time, was referred to as the “Anti-Grooming Bill” by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ press secretary Christina Pushaw. Its actual title is “Parental Rights in Education.”

McCool said the provision about not withholding information from parents could have unintended consequences.

“When I was 14 years old … I was beaten on a regular basis and sexually abused by my stepfather repeatedly for a number of years,” McCool said. “I went in confidence to tell a teacher about this. This teacher in turn, went and told my parents what I had told them and, in turn, what I got was more beatings and more abuse.”

The policies of school districts regarding LGBTQ students and parental notification have come under scrutiny recently, including in recent public comments by a Volusia County parent who questioned language in Volusia County Schools’ online 2020 LGBTQ Support Guide. The guide has subsequently been taken down.

“Guidance is given that teaches children to hide things from their parents,” Jennifer Kelly said at a Jan. 25 School Board meeting.

The support guide, under a section titled Talking to Parents/Guardians, references federal court rulings that hold that the Constitution “prohibits government officials from disclosing information about a person’s gay, lesbian or bisexual orientation, except under limited circumstances,” adding that “The expression of sexual orientation is an innately personal choice.”

Therefore, according to the guide, “With the very limited exception involving the imminent fear of physical harm, it is never appropriate to divulge the sexual orientation of a student to a parent.”

The Parental Bill of Rights, signed into law in June 2021 amid furious debate over mask mandates in schools, allowed parents to object to mask mandates. Since then, other policies, like the advice in the LGBTQ Support Guide, have come into question. 

HB 1557 specifically addresses this by “prohibiting a school district from adopting procedures or student support forms that prohibit school district personnel from notifying a parent about specified information.”

“When we are stripping teachers of the ability to take into a child’s confidence and protect a child, we’re putting politics over people, and I find it shameful,” McCool told the School Board. “There are four pages of HB 1557 that talk about the rights of parents, but nowhere does it talk about the rights of the child.”

Heather McLean, public information officer for the local LGBTQ group DeLand Pride, also spoke to the School Board.

“LGBTQ youth exist in our schools, whether they are acknowledged or not, and are especially vulnerable. We know that LGBTQ students are much more likely to experience bullying, harassment, assault, and to commit self-harm and suicide,” McLean said. “Not all parents are accepting of their children. … These children will lose protections that are already in place if educators are required to notify parents when children confide in them, or when children wish to share their identities with their peers.”

“What happens to these kids if they do not feel like they have someone that they can trust? These children turn to self-abuse, they turn to alcoholism, they turn to drugs, they turn to promiscuity: They are lost,” McCool said.

The law, if signed, would go into effect July 1, and the outcome of its implementation is unclear. In emails shared with The Beacon, School Board members have said that the LGBTQ Support Guide is currently under review by the school’s legal team. 

“I’m telling you right now, we cannot do this to our kids,” McCool said. “I understand what the law says. There’s also moral law here at issue. Listen to these kids, respect their privacy as much as you can, do not let these kids down.”

McCool said she knows balancing the new legislation with the privacy rights of children will be difficult. 

“This is going to be a hard thing for you guys to navigate your way through. So I just asked you teachers and counselors to remember that when you’re dealing with these kids: Not politics over privacy,” she finished.

See the Volusia County Schools LGBTQ Support Guide for 2020 by clicking below.

VCS LGBTQ Support Guide 2020

1 COMMENT

  1. Here is the dire effect.

    Adults will have a narrower path to access and groom children.

    Anybody who thinks teaching homosexuality to a 1st grader is not fit to live in society.

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