Florida Board of Education OK’s Anti-LGBTQ+ Policies, Sanitized View of Slavery

Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr.

Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr.

The Florida Board of Education Wednesday adopted sweeping anti-LGBTQ+ policies as well as rules restricting teaching about slavery and racism.

The rules, which affect public schools, largely reflect laws recently passed in the state.

Among the anti-LGBTQ+ policies, Rule No. 6A-10.086 threatens students with discipline for using a restroom other than one that reflects their sex assigned at birth, and Rule No. 6A-10.081 threatens an educator’s credentials for using a restroom other than one that reflects their sex assigned at birth. School districts are required to create punishments for violation.

Another policy OK’d Wednesday says students may not be addressed by names other than their legal names without the consent of a parent or guardian, Florida Today reports. Districts will have to craft a permission form. “Students and teachers are also not allowed to go by chosen names or pronouns that do not align with their sex assigned at birth,” according to Florida Today.

Yet another lays out guidelines for teachers in keeping with the state’s recently expanded “don’t say LGBTQ+” law. Guidelines were previously in place only for kindergarten through third grade. The new ones say teachers in kindergarten through eighth grade may not cover sexual orientation or gender identity except when required by any other law, and teachers in ninth through 12th grade may address these subjects only if required by Florida academic standards or during reproductive health instruction. Parents or guardians are allowed opt their children out of lessons on reproductive health.

One more restricts what events teachers may take students to and mandates parental permission for certain activities. It says teachers may not take students to “adult live performances,” which include drag performances, although neither the policy nor the law it’s based on uses the term “drag.”

Will Larkins, a graduate of Winter Park High School who ran the gay-straight alliance there, said the board told him the policy on extracurriculars means students would have to get permission to attend GSA meetings, something that would endanger closeted students.

“We had several students who were living homeless at 16, 17 years old because their parents kicked them out of their house for being gay, for being trans,” Larkins said at the meeting, according to Florida Today. “Their parents are not going to sign that permission slip, but these students only found solace in this community, this after-school activity.”

The board’s meeting, held in Orlando, drew much public comment. Matthew Woodside, a teacher from Brevard, spoke in favor of the names policy. “Many students are attempting [to go by a different name] without the knowledge of their parents, and many schools are complicit in this scheme, keeping this information from these parents, undermining the God-given rights of the parents,” he said, as reported by Florida Today.

“When something as sensitive as a student wanting to be called by a name of the opposite sex occurs, we must recognize that these students are minors. They are minors, and their desire for autonomy and secrecy will never trump the rights of parents to raise their child with full knowledge of who they project to be at school.”

Commissioner of Education Manny Diaz Jr. did not attend most of the meeting but issued a press release praising the board’s actions. “There is no higher calling than to protect our children from unwelcome influences and indoctrination,” he said in the release. “The rules adopted today ensure that our kids can be kids while in the care of our schools. I thank Governor Ron DeSantis, the Legislature and the State Board of Education for their unwavering commitment to the health, wellbeing and safety of our students.”

Equality Florida responded with a statement from Jennifer Solomon, parents and families support manager: “This politically motivated war on parents, students, and educators needs to stop. Our students deserve classrooms where all families are treated with the respect they deserve and all young people are welcomed. Instead, the DeSantis Administration continues to wield the state against us, insisting that politicians know better than we do how best to educate our children. Let parents be parents. Let educators be educators. And stop turning our kids’ classrooms into political battlefields to score cheap points.”

Among the new standards OK’d for teaching about slavery and racism is one that requires “instruction for middle school students to include ‘how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit,’” CNN reports. The NAACP issued a press release calling this “a sanitized and dishonest telling of the history of slavery in America.”

A policy on racially motivated massacres, which occurred in Florida towns and elsewhere in the 20th century, mandates inclusion of “acts of violence perpetrated against and by African Americans,” even though most of the violence was committed by whites against Blacks.

“Today’s actions by the Florida state government are an attempt to bring our country back to a 19th-century America where Black life was not valued, nor our rights protected,” NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson said in the release. “It is imperative that we understand that the horrors of slavery and Jim Crow were a violation of human rights and represent the darkest period in American history. We refuse to go back. The NAACP has been fighting against malicious actors such as those within the DeSantis Administration for over a century, and we’re prepared to continue that fight by any means necessary. Our children deserve nothing less than truth, justice, and the equity our ancestors shed blood, sweat, and tears for.”

Pictured: Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr.