Saying Florida will “let the kids be kids,” Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday signed a bill that expands a controversial 2022 law restricting instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in schools.
The bill (HB 1069) also limits the way teachers and students can use their preferred pronouns in schools and bolsters another contentious 2022 law that ramped up scrutiny of instructional materials and school-library books. The measure has drawn ire from LGBTQ-advocacy group Equality Florida, which blasted the bill Wednesday as part of DeSantis’ “slate of hate.”
Last year’s law on sexual orientation and gender identity instruction was formally given the title Parental Rights in Education by supporters, but disparagingly given the moniker “don’t say gay” by critics. The law prohibits such lessons in kindergarten through third-grade. But the measure that DeSantis signed Wednesday broadens that prohibition in state law to pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.
DeSantis signed the bill at a Christian school in Tampa, flanked by Republican lawmakers and other supporters.
“They (the Legislature) said no sexuality or things like transgender ideology or gender theory in grades K (kindergarten) through three,” the governor said of last year’s law. “Actually, what you saw is, some people were trying to jam it into pre-K to get around that law. So this (bill) says pre-K and also goes up to grade eight. Because I think what we’ve seen, in these libraries and in some of the books, there’s clearly a concerted effort to try to do indoctrination in the middle school grades.”
The governor has made what he characterizes as a fight against inappropriate content in school-library books and learning materials a linchpin of his education agenda. The measure also makes the process of objecting to books and instructional materials easier, in part by requiring that forms used for objecting to books be “easy to read and understand” and readily accessible on school districts’ websites.
DeSantis also signed a package of other bills targeting the LGBTQ community, including a measure that will ban doctors from using treatments such as puberty blockers and hormone therapy for transgender children.
Equality Florida swiftly decried the governor’s signing of the measures.
“These bills have never, ever been about protecting students or parents. In fact, quite the opposite,” Nadine Smith, the organization’s executive director, said during a press conference Wednesday. “The architects of these bills are national right wing think-tanks, who asked the question, ‘What culture war issue would rile people up now that the vast majority embrace marriage equality?’”
The Human Rights Campaign also blasted the bill as an “intentional effort to erase transgender and non-binary people” from school curriculum.
Another part of the measure that has riled LGBTQ advocates deals with the way teachers and students can be addressed by their preferred pronouns.
The new law, which is set to take effect in July, requires that it “shall be the policy” of every Florida public school that “a person’s sex is an immutable biological trait and that it is false to ascribe to a person a pronoun that does not correspond to such person’s sex.”
Teachers and other school employees will be prohibited from telling students their preferred pronouns under the measure, and also will be barred from asking students about their preferred pronouns.
DeSantis criticized the use of pronouns in schools before putting his signature on the bill.
“We never did this through all of human history until like, what, two weeks ago? Now this is something, they’re having third-graders declare pronouns? We’re not doing the pronoun olympics in Florida. It’s not happening here,” DeSantis said.
But Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book, D-Davie, called the measure “hateful” and pointed to the significance of the day DeSantis signed the bill.
“Today, on International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, Governor Ron DeSantis signed a series of hateful, discriminatory, anti-LGBTQ bills into law. Trampling equality is not freedom,” Book said in a tweet.
DeSantis also Wednesday signed a bill (HB 225) that will give the governor and state education officials increased authority over the Florida High School Athletic Association.
The measure will shrink the size of the FHSAA’s Board of Directors, from 16 to 13 members, and give the governor authority to appoint eight of those members. It also says that the state commissioner of education “may direct the FHSAA to revise its bylaws at any time” and requires that any changes to the FHSAA’s bylaws be approved by the state Board of Education.
The governor attributed some of the changes in the bill to what he described as the athletic organization dragging its feet on implementing a 2021 law dubbed the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act.” The law included a ban on transgender females participating on girls’ and women’s high-school and college sports teams.
“It took them like 18 months to be able to implement that through the athletic association. I’m just thinking to myself, that should have taken a couple of weeks to be able to do,” DeSantis said.
But the governor highlighted another part of the law Wednesday that is designed to allow schools to offer pre-game prayers over stadium public-address systems. The measure allows for “opening remarks” of up to two minutes and says that the athletic association “may not control, monitor, or review the content of the opening remarks” made before games.
The bill-signing event was held at Cambridge Christian School, which is a plaintiff in a long-running lawsuit about whether the school should have been allowed to offer a prayer over a stadium loudspeaker before a 2015 high-school football championship game.
Cambridge Christian Head of School Shawn Minks joined DeSantis at the bill-signing event.
“By banning a pre-game prayer over the loudspeaker, the FHSAA sent a message to our students that prayer is inappropriate to lead publicly in large forums. Today, the state of Florida teaches a different lesson, one that supports free speech and respects the religious freedom of students across the state,” Minks said.