DeSantis champions ‘parental rights’ bill

DeSantis addresses a Senate committee earlier today. Photo courtesy: Florida Channel

Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida addressed the state Senate’s “Parents Bill of Rights” today during a hearing in the Education Committee.

“Florida has led the way in putting kids first,” DeSantis said.

Florida is ranked No. 3 from kindergarten to grade 12 in the latest Education Week quality ratings. DeSantis defended his administration’s ruling to prohibit all mask mandates in the state’s public schools.

“I want to keep the schools open and to protect the rights of the parents,” DeSantis said, “In pockets across America, schools are closing once again. These closings … will not be tolerated in Florida.”

While the governor shared his outlook on issues with mandates, restrictions and the critical race theory, he did not elaborate on a controversial bill that would ban certain discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom. “Don’t say gay” is another term for Senate Bill 1834, or the Parental Rights in Education bill. It has companion legislation in the other chamber, House Bill 1557.

SB 1834 passed earlier today on a party-line vote of 6-3.

DeSantis, a Republican who is considered a leading candidate in the 2024 presidential race, said it was “entirely inappropriate” for teachers and school administrators to have conversations with students about their gender identity, saying that in some schools, children are told, “Don’t worry, don’t pick your gender yet.”

The governor continued by adding that, “Schools need to be teaching kids to read, to write.”

Though he didn’t directly say whether he would sign the bill if it reached his desk, when asked about it Monday in Miami, DeSantis appeared to strongly suggest that he is supportive of the legislation.

According to SB 1834, school districts may not encourage discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in primary grade levels or in “a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.”

Pink News, an LGBTQ website, says that despite fierce opposition from Democrats and LGBTQ advocates, the bill is gaining traction in the Florida Legislature. Opponents of the bill warn that it would lead to further alienation of gay, lesbian, and transgender children, causing more bullying and suicides within an already criticized community. Opponents also say the bill would eliminate LGBTQ history from the curriculum and prevent teachers from having discussions in their classrooms if questions about sexual orientation and gender identity come up.

Supporters of the bill say the moratorium is directed at school districts, and it will not prevent teachers from having those conversations if they arise. Nor would it prevent same-sex parents from participating in classroom activities or keep teachers from sponsoring gay and lesbian alliance clubs.

Parents would be able to sue the school districts if they suspect a violation. Addressing sexual orientation and gender identity is part of a larger bill that seeks to keep parents informed about developments in schools regarding their children. The bill would also ban schools from adopting procedures that could lead to school district personnel withholding information about a child’s mental, emotional, or physical health.

DeSantis said the goal is to create transparency for parents.

“You have politicians saying parents have no role in the education of their kids,” he said. “Give me a break. We want parents to be able to have access to what’s going on in the classroom.”