Gov. Ron DeSantis responded to a lawsuit filed by an LGBTQ group Thursday in an attempt to block a new Florida law that forbids classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity for students in kindergarten through third-grade classrooms.
The governor signed the “Parental Rights in Education” bill — also dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill — earlier this week, which also bars teaching sexual orientation and gender identity in other classrooms in ways that are “not age-appropriate.” It also prohibits schools from not notifying parents about a student’s “mental, emotional or physical health or well-being,” which could include requiring schools to “out” LGTBQ students to parents.
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The challenge was filed Thursday by Equality Florida and Family Equality in federal court in Tallahassee, alleging the new law violates the constitutionally protected rights of free speech, equal protection and due process of students and families.
“Are you arguing that there’s a constitutional right to have classroom instruction for first graders about things like transgender and gender ideology? I can’t imagine that a court would accept that, clearly on appeal, a court wouldn’t accept that,” the governor said during a news conference Thursday.
The lawsuit says, “This effort to control young minds through state censorship — and to demean LGBTQ lives by denying their reality — is a grave abuse of power.”
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Many critics have said the law’s language, particularly the phrases “classroom instruction” and “age appropriate,” could be interpreted so broadly that discussion in any grade could trigger lawsuits, creating a classroom atmosphere where teachers would avoid the subjects entirely.
DeSantis called this “policy decisions” and said he doesn’t think it is anything that is invoking the first amendment because “states and localities have the ability to set curriculum in public schools.”
“So I don’t think that there any of the legal claims have merit, but I am mindful. I mean, you know, there are certain judges if a cause du jour out there, you know, they could potentially stretch the law to try to do that. I don’t think that’s going to happen in this case. But the bottom line is, you know, we are going to defend this vigorously,” he said.
DeSantis also commented during a news conference on the possibility that state lawmakers could move to repeal the 1967 Reedy Creek Improvement Act over Disney’s stated and financial opposition to the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
He said a potential repeal of the act would not be made purely in retaliation over Disney’s behavior but could instead be part of a larger effort to strip the corporation of what the governor called “special privileges.”
The new law takes effect on July 1, 2022.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.