In Florida, 'culture war' measures come to the classroom

The state will hold a series of online rule-development workshops that would help implement new laws, including regulating who can use which restrooms and banning kids from drag shows.

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

The Florida Department of Education is gearing up to begin crafting rules to carry out a number of measures approved by state lawmakers and signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, including some proposals that were among the most controversial issues from the 2023 legislative session.

The department is slated on June 9 to hold a series of online rule-development workshops that would help implement the new laws.

One of the measures (HB 1521), signed by DeSantis May 17, will require people to use the bathroom that lines up with their sex assigned at birth. The new law, which goes into effect July 1, applies to the use of restrooms at public and private schools, as well as “public buildings” such as airports, state and local-government buildings, prisons and jails.

A notice of the education department’s rule-development workshop said its “purpose and effect” is to “align the rule with new legislative changes … that prohibit a district policy that allows separation for any criteria other than biological sex at birth.”

Other coverage – Florida Gov. DeSantis expands ban on sexual orientation, gender identity instruction

The subject matter that will be addressed during the workshop is “access to restrooms, locker rooms, and dressing rooms by the opposite sex for which they were designated,” the notice said.

DeSantis, who championed the restroom measure, said the new law is geared toward “ensuring women’s safety.”

“A woman should not be in a locker room having to worry about someone from the opposite sex being in their locker room,” the governor said during a bill-signing event.

The controversial measure was among a number of bills targeting transgender people approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed by DeSantis, who recently entered the 2024 race for president.

Democrats and LGBTQ-advocacy groups fiercely opposed the slate of bills. In a statement issued last week, the Human Rights Campaign decried what it called the “anti-trans bathroom bill” as part of “targeted and discriminatory” measures aimed at gay and transgender men and women.

Another rule-development workshop scheduled for June 9 addresses a new law (SB 1438) that seeks to block children from attending drag shows. The law prohibits venues from admitting minors to “adult live performances,” which are defined as “any show, exhibition, or other presentation that is performed in front of a live audience and in whole or in part, depicts or simulates nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, specific sexual activities, … lewd conduct, or the lewd exposure of prosthetic or imitation genitals or breasts.”

The Department of Education’s proposed rule would apply to school-sponsored events and activities.

The notice of the workshop says that the rule’s purpose would be to “protect the fundamental rights of parents by ensuring that children are not exposed to inappropriate school-sponsored events and activities.”

The department also appears poised to begin the rulemaking process on a rule the agency said aims to strengthen parents’ rights and “safeguard their child’s educational record to ensure the use of the child’s legal name in school.”

The workshop on that issue comes after DeSantis signed a controversial measure (HB 1069) that limits the way teachers and students can use their preferred pronouns in schools.

Under the new law, which goes into effect July 1, teachers and other school employees will be prohibited from telling students their preferred pronouns. Educators also will be barred from asking students about their preferred pronouns.

The notice of the workshop about students’ names said the rule being developed would implement parts of laws related to school-district records and the rights of parents and students.

“A local procedure will be developed for a parent to specify any deviation from the child’s legal name in school. This rule will ensure full transparency to enhance the student’s record and protect parental rights. Other general amendments designed to strengthen student records will also be considered,” the notice said.

Also, the education department has scheduled a June 9 workshop to flesh out a process to handle disagreements over local decisions about objections to materials used in school or classroom libraries. The process would involve special magistrates and administrative hearings.

Another rule being developed will lay out a procedure for teachers to challenge certain directives from school districts or school administrators. Under a new law (SB 1035) signed by DeSantis, educators could request special magistrates in instances if they are “directed by his or her school district or school to violate a state law” or State Board of Education rule.

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