Controversial ‘Parental Rights’ bill advances in Legislature

Sen. Lori Berman (D-Lantana) argues in opposition to the Parental Rights bill. Photo courtesy James Call

On Feb.17, Florida Senate Bill 1634 moved through the Senate Education Committee with a 3-2 party-line vote. An identical bill, HB 1059, passed in a Florida House of Representatives’ Judiciary Committee on Feb. 18 with an 11-5 majority.

Also known as the “Parental Rights” bill, it would allow parents to excuse their children from school or classes on days when the curriculum would include controversial topics such as evolution, sexual education and climate change.

The bill states that “the state, its political subdivisions, other governmental entities, or other institutions may not infringe on parental rights without demonstrating specified information … requiring each district school board in consultation with parents, teachers, and administrators, to develop and adopt a policy to promote parental involvement in the public school system; prohibiting certain health care practitioners from taking specified actions without a parent’s written permission, etc.”

Senator Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland) said she filed the bill to ensure parental rights to “direct the upbringing, education and care of their children.”

“There’s this impression out there if a parent isn’t parenting in a way that somebody believes they should, they should be removed and replaced by the state,” she said in defense of her bill.

Some believe that passage of the Parental Rights bill would prevent minors from accessing information that they may otherwise not have access to.

“You have to know things so that you’re not ambushed by a bunch of information on the news when you’re older,” said Ashley Smith, a former secondary education student. “Yes, religion is important to me, but I still want to at least have knowledge of scientific theories like evolution. Not having information like that because of conservative parents does the child a disservice.”

School can also serve as an outlet for students to behave in ways they would not feel comfortable behaving at home.

“At school, people are more accepting than you own family,” said Alisha Greene, a senior business administration studentat Florida A&M. “You’re away from your family so you get to be a truer version of yourself.”

In addition to educational restrictions, the bill would allow health information such as sexual identification and preferences shared with school administrators to be accessible to parents without the consent of their children.

“It scares me that if we pass this bill, we are going to put these at-risk students in jeopardy,” said Sen. Lori Berman (D-Lantana).

Berman and othersopposed to the Parental Rights bill argue that it would be specifically detrimental to students that identify as LGBTQ+ who would not be comfortable sharing health information with their parents.

On Wednesday, the bill was added to the Senate agenda for a ruling on March 2.