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‘Don’t say gay’ law creates confusion in Florida

Some Florida schools have pulled texts from their libraries and are considering possible changes in response to a measure critics describe as “the don’t say gay law.” Teachers, on the other hand, express fear that family photos on their desks could get them into trouble.

As classes resume after the summer break, schools are preparing to see how the new law that will apply to the teaching of gender identity and sexual orientation is implemented.

The law, sponsored by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, bans classes on sexual orientation and gender identity from kindergarten through third grade, as well as any material not considered age-appropriate.

Most teachers don’t think there will be major changes in curricula, one of the main reasons opponents of this law have argued that it’s unnecessary because those topics don’t come up that early in school anyway. .

But there are those who believe this creates an environment that will leave LGBTQ teachers and children feeling marginalized.

“The message conveyed by this law is horrible. Poisonous. Discriminatory,” complained Gretchen Robinson, a lesbian high school teacher from Orange County. “It targets, in a very obvious way, LGBTQ students, it gives them the category of ‘other,’ and that’s not good at all.”

Workshops offered by her school district over the summer caused confusion. Some teachers said they were told that in kindergarten through third grade they would not be allowed to display gay Pride flags or pictures of their same-sex peers. The district later clarified that the law only covers classrooms and that photos are allowed. He apologized for giving the wrong instructions during a hypothetical discussion.

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Robinson said schools in her area have handed out rainbow ribbons and inclusion stickers, but she doesn’t know if teachers will still be able to use them. She also worried that some teachers, out of “over caution, would stop using it” during classes.

The law was widely discussed, and criticized, as it was considered by the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature. Critics have described it as the “don’t be gay law,” although it does not ban specific phrases or material about sexual orientation that is appropriate for children in fourth grade and up.

Opponents say the law would limit classroom conversation because it doesn’t clarify what could be considered inappropriate. In addition, it creates a mechanism in which parents are invited to sue districts, which could exacerbate tensions between conservatives and school authorities.

The debate is not unique to Florida. It’s playing out across the country, with battles between school boards and state legislatures over what to teach children about race, gender, sexual orientation and the nation’s history.

DeSantis and other Republicans argue that parents should be the ones responsible for teaching children about sexual orientation and gender identity. The governor recently said, “I hear some say, ‘Wow, school’s starting.’ In Florida they banned critical race theory and all that stuff. How are the teachers going to know what to teach?’”

“And I say to myself: ‘You learn to read, math, science, all the basics. You don’t learn gender ideology, CRT (critical race theory), sexuality in elementary school. It’s not that hard to understand.”

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Teachers say the Florida Department of Education has not yet clearly explained how the law will be applied. The department did not immediately respond to an email from the AP requesting comment.

“We tell people it’s confusing and we don’t know how it’s going to be interpreted. What we can do is take care of kids and give them the school environment they deserve,” said Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association union.

Teachers in several school districts say they fear that parents will file complaints about alleged violations of the new law, although it is not entirely clear what can and cannot be said.

Norma Schwartz, a mother of a fifth-grader and an eighth-grader in Miami-Dade, which has the largest school system in the state, said many students, families and teachers feel they are being targeted.

The law “goes against our mission and our vision, which is to encourage students to feel more confident about themselves, not to make them feel like they’re not a part” of society, said Schwartz, who member is from the Miami-Dade. Council of the Parent Teacher Association, which opposes the law.

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