March 8, 2022
To the Florida Legislature, Gov. DeSantis, Florida Instructors of Teacher Preparation, Florida School Personnel, and Allies,
We are writing on behalf of the Caucus of LGBTQ+ Special Educators, which is associated with the Council for Exceptional Children, the main professional organization of educational professionals who work with individuals with disabilities. We stand in strong opposition to the Parental Rights in Education bill, also known to some as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
While many schools have come to consider parents to be the consumers of their child’s education, parents, in fact, are not those who benefit most directly from a well-educated citizenry. Our whole society is the group that receives the greatest benefit of education, and that is the main reason we currently have public funding of education across the United States. We believe the greatest risk of the Parental Rights in Education bill is that it continues a contortion of the principal of equitable and inclusive education which moves our society closer towards the privatization of public education. Other advocacy groups have labeled this bill as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, but that label is a distraction and is meant to activate those who stand in opposition to a new supposed “woke” culture. After a careful read of the bill, we would characterize this bill as the “Don’t Trust Teachers” bill.
The bill itself only minimally addresses LGBTQ+ issues, mentioned only in the following excerpt:
3. 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.(PCS for CS/HB 1557, Line 80, p. 4)
Teachers and other school personnel are in the best position to determine what is developmentally appropriate for students under their care, and, therefore, that which a group of reasonable school professionals would determine is developmentally appropriate to teach would supposedly not activate this law. Other states have adopted comprehensive sexuality education that is age and developmentally appropriate for young students, including those in kindergarten through third grade that does include references to LGBTQ+ identities, so we know it can be done. Age-appropriate LGBTQ+ instruction for grades K-3 is important for those youth who will later identify as LGBTQ+, since these students must learn early that they are whole and competent people. This lesson may be especially important for youth with disabilities, who may be made to doubt their wholeness and competence. This instruction is also vital to those youth who will later identify as straight, since they may learn early that LGBTQ+ youth are as good — and as worthy of school and community respect — as everyone else.
The bill further addresses these issues in a more hidden manner by mandating how schools report to parents “change[s] 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” (PCS for CS/HB1557, line 52-56, p. 3). The effect of this statement would be a requirement on school personnel to report to parents anytime a student confides in them information about their sexuality or gender identity, among other things that could affect a child’s well-being. While, in most situations, it would be difficult for a reasonable teacher to choose to not report to a reasonable parent information about a child’s welfare, people who have served in public education know that not all parents are reasonable and can, at times, be the cause of trauma in a child’s life. There is an exemption in the bill wherein a school could adopt a procedure to withhold information if the disclosure could result in “abuse, abandonment, or neglect” (PCS for CS/HB1557, Line 74, pp 3-4); but, in which case, why bother with this law?
Finally, how the bill addresses a supposed violation is problematic:
7. A parent of a student may bring an action against a school district to obtain a declaratory judgment that a school district procedure or practice violates this paragraph and seek injunctive relief. A court may award damages and shall award reasonable attorney fees and court costs to a parent who receives declaratory or injunctive relief. (PCS for CS/HB 1557, Line 102, p 5)
This provision sets up situations in which outside groups could fund parents’ claims of inappropriateness that would have to be adjudicated at the expense of teachers and school districts. This would have a chilling effect on the inclusion of these topics in elementary education programs and possibly even in higher grades, depending on the beliefs of the communities involved. In addition, it could make teachers err on reporting a child’s growing awareness of their gender and sexual identities even in dangerous situations to avoid the risk of being sued.
In conclusion, this bill offers nothing to further the provision of education to any students but does provide for more avenues to destroy good teachers and good public schools. It is not aligned with the Council for Exceptional Children’s Strategic Plan for increasing diversity, equity, inclusivity, and accessibility. It is for these reasons that we strongly advocate for the defeat of this “Don’t Trust Teachers” bill.
Thank you very much for your time in reading this letter and for your consideration,
Bryan E. Cichy-Parker, Ph.D. (he/him/his)
Assistant Professor of Special Education
Chair of the LGBTQ+ Caucus of Special Educators