Florida education officials voted Wednesday to ban classroom instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation in all public school grades, expanding on a law signed by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis that barred such lessons for younger students.
The new rule is part of a broader rightward push on cultural issues championed by DeSantis, who is widely expected to run for president in 2024.
The board, whose members are appointed by the governor, unanimously approved prohibiting lessons on gender identity or sexual orientation in grades four through 12, unless the instruction is required by state standards or is part of a health class that parents can opt out their children.
Last year, DeSantis signed legislation that outlawed instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation from kindergarten through third grade, arguing that parents, rather than teachers, should decide when to discuss those subjects with their children.
Critics, including President Joe Biden, said the law would marginalize already-vulnerable LGBTQ students. The statute sparked an ongoing battle between DeSantis and Disney, after the entertainment corporation publicly opposed the law.
Dozens of speakers gave impassioned remarks, mostly in opposition to the measure, during nearly an hour of public comment ahead of Wednesday's vote.
Opponents of the rule said its language was so vague that teachers would likely avoid the subjects altogether, perhaps by excising books that feature LGBTQ characters. Several transgender people described how having a trusted teacher to confide in as adolescents helped save their lives.
Supporters said the rule ensures that children are not taught age-inappropriate subjects without parental oversight.
"Especially when it comes to issues such as sexual orientation and gender identity, these decisions should be left at home for parents to decide when their children should be exposed to this material," said Ryan Kennedy, a member of the Florida Citizens Alliance, a conservative education group.
The state education commissioner, Manny Diaz, defended the proposal, saying it simply clarifies that teachers should adhere to state-approved curricula. Students who need counseling, including for mental health, can and should be referred to professional school counselors rather than teachers, he said.
Violating the rule could result in the suspension or revocation of an educator's teaching license.
The regulation does not require legislative approval. The Republican-majority legislature is separately considering a bill that would expand the 2022 law through eighth grade.
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