The Florida Board of Education voted Wednesday to put a ban on discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity through 12th grade.
The move expands on a previous ban for kindergarten through third grade. The move is being applauded by some and met with outrage by others.
“This is going to just destroy any semblance of community queer people have had at public schools in Florida,” said Will Larkins, a non-binary senior at Winter Park High School.
They said they do not agree with the Board of Education’s decision.
“Sexuality gender identity that’s a discussion that needs to be happening from an early age,” Larkins said. “It’s a fact of life. It’s part of being a student it’s part of being a person. So banning that discussion all the way through 12th grade will cause so many problems it will take away so many safe spaces.”
But on the very school board that oversees Larkin’s high school — Orange County — at least one member, Alicia Farrant, agrees with the move, saying students need to be focused on things like reading and writing.
“They’re not there to learn about different genders or how they can change their gender,” Farrant said.
And state representative Randy Fine is on the same page.
“School is only so long,” Fine said. “There’s only so many minutes in a day, there’s only so many minutes in a year and every minute they waste on social indoctrination is a minute they haven’t spent teaching.”
Farrant says the Orange County Board will need to take another look at the curriculum after the state board’s decision.
“And see how we can change that to make sure we’re in compliance with the law,” Farrant said.
And Fine says the decision shouldn’t put any added pressure on teachers.
“If this presents problems for teachers it means they’re teaching the wrong things,” Fine said.
But Andrew Spar, Florida Education Association President, says this decision will cause confusion for teachers. What happens if a student asks them a question?
“Are they not to answer that question, if they answer that question do they risk potentially losing their job?” Spar said.
And he says it comes at a time when strain on teachers is already high.
“Right now, Florida faces the worst teacher staff shortage we’ve ever seen,” Spar said. “When laws like this are passed and rules are adopted by the department of education such as this, it often puts an additional strain on teachers and is driving them out of the profession.”
The move will ban teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity unless it, “is either expressly required by state academic standards” or is part of a health or reproductive health class parents can opt their students out of, according to Board of Education documents.
This expansion of the “Don’t Say Gay” initiative comes at a time that the House also passed bills on gender-transition treatments, bathroom use and keeping children out of drag shows.