Florida’s HB 1557 has drawn heavy fire from LGBTQ advocates, media, and Democrats.
News outlets like CNN call HB 1557 the “Don’t Say Gay Bill” in copy, and critics of the legislation accuse Republicans of endangering LGBTQ youth by outing them to their parents or preventing them from learning about their sexuality.
Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his team have repeatedly pushed back on this framing. As recently as Monday, the governor tore into a reporter for misrepresenting the bill during a press briefing.
“Critics call it the Don’t Say Gay bill,” said the reporter, to which DeSantis replied, “Does it say that in the bill? I’m asking you to tell me what is in the bill because you are pushing false narratives. It doesn’t matter what critics say.”
“It bans classroom instruction on sexual identity and gender orientation,” said the reporter.
“For who?” pressed the governor. “For grades Pre-K through 3. So 5-year-olds, 6-year-olds, 7-year-olds, and the idea that you wouldn’t be honest about that and tell people what it actually says, it’s why people don’t trust people like you, because you peddle false narratives.”
What’s In The Bill?
The bill is a response to an influx of gender ideology and sexual orientation content in classrooms across the nation exposed by conservative news outlets and grassroots organizations like Parents Defending Education.
Critics have most notably taken issue with the bill’s statement that “classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”
Students in kindergarten are typically five-years-old, while third graders generally are eight or nine years old.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a child usually can follow rules or take turns playing games with other children by five years old. That five-year-old may sing, dance, do simple chores like matching socks or clearing the table.
The child may tell a story that he or she heard, answer simple questions, maintain a simple conversation, count to 10, use words like “yesterday,” “tomorrow,” “morning,” or “night,” and hop on one foot.
Nowhere in the legislation is the word “gay” mentioned, though the word “parent” is mentioned 32 times and the word “parental” is mentioned seven times. The legislation heavily focuses on parental notification and parental awareness of what children are being taught or exposed to in school.
Heavy Emphasis On Parental Notification
HB 1557 requires that district school boards adopt procedures that “comport with certain provisions of law for notifying a students parent of specified information.”
The bill requires that these procedures “reinforce the fundamental right of parents to make decisions regarding the upbringing and control of their children.”
It prohibits any school procedures from impeding “a parent from accessing certain records,” encouraging a student to withhold such information from a parent, or discouraging parental notification in critical decisions involving a student’s “mental, emotional, or physical well-being.”
“Adopt procedures for notifying a student’s parent if there is a change in the student’s services or monitoring related to the student’s mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being and the school’s ability to provide a safe and supportive learning environment for the student,” orders the bill.
“The procedures must reinforce the fundamental right of parents to make decisions regarding the upbringing and control of their children by requiring school district personnel to encourage a student to discuss issues relating to his or her well-being with his or her parent or to facilitate discussion of the issue with the parent,” the legislation continues.
Such procedures may not impede parents from “accessing any of their student’s education and health records created, maintained, or used by the school district,” the bill text reads.
Reporter: “Critics call it the Don’t Say Gay bill”
DeSantis: “Does it say that in the bill?”
Reporter: “It bans classroom instruction on sexual identity and gender orientation.”
DeSantis: “For who?… Grades Pre-K through 3.”
— Greg Price (@greg_price11) March 7, 2022
“A school district may not adopt procedures or student support forms that prohibit school district personnel from notifying a parent about his or her student’s mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being, or a change in related services or monitoring, or that encourage or have the effect of encouraging a student to withhold from a parent such information,” the legislation says.
It continues: “School district personnel may not discourage or prohibit parental notification of and involvement in critical decisions affecting a student’s mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being,” though it notes that the school may adopt procedures that permit the school to withhold information if “a reasonably prudent person would believe that disclosure would result in abuse, abandonment, or neglect.”
At the beginning of the school year, school districts must notify parents of all healthcare services offered at their child’s school and give parents the ability to withhold their consent or decline any specific service.
“Parental consent to a health care service does not waive the parent’s right to access his or her student’s educational or health records or to be notified about a change in his or her student’s services or monitoring as provided by this paragraph,” the legislation continues.
The school district must also provide health screening forms or questionnaires to parents before administering them to students. The legislation provides detailed explanations of what recourses parents have if their school district is not following the letter of the law in these matters.