Expansion of parental rights law through 12th grade clarifies term ‘age appropriate,’ Florida says

Florida Education Commissioner offers new outlook

CLAY COUNTY, Fla. – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday held a news conference at a high school in Clay County to tout enrolment numbers in the state’s Civics Seal of Excellence initiative, a program that activated in January and is meant to reward educators of any subject who go out of their way to teach Civics lessons.

“We can now report that we’ve already had 4,500 teachers throughout Florida that have completed our Civics Seal of Excellence endorsement program, so they have now earned $3,000 bonuses for all those 4,500 teachers,” DeSantis said, adding only the first 20,000 teachers who apply will be eligible for the bonuses, 20,000 have already applied and 14,000 are on a waiting list. “So what they had to do to achieve that bonus is participate in at least 50 hours of instruction on topics including many of the topics that I outlined: rights and responsibilities of citizens, value of civic pride, civics participation in government, comparing the United States with other governing philosophies like communist regimes and also understanding the philosophical underpinnings of the American republic.”

As the event at Ridgewood High School wound down, Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. took one of several questions reporters asked about other topics giving national character to Florida headlines, including the potential expansion of the Parental Rights in Education law known among its critics as “Don’t Say Gay.”

[TRENDING: Become a News 6 Insider]

DeSantis signed HB 1557 in March 2022, claiming part of Florida’s answer to “a national trend to cut parents out of their child’s education” was to ban classroom instruction on sexuality or gender identity in grades K-3, with further instruction left to what’s “age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards,” the bill states.

“The bill prohibits classroom instruction about sexuality or things like transgender (sic) in K-3 classrooms and after third grade those curriculums need to be age appropriate,” DeSantis said at the bill-signing event in 2022. “...This is inappropriate for kindergarteners and first graders and second graders. Parents do not want this going on in their schools.”

As a bill and even now, HB 1557 was scrutinized for its vague language, using terms such as “age appropriate” that left many Florida school districts wondering what could or couldn’t be taught after the third grade.

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.

HB 1557, lines 97-101

With a vote to expand the law set in April before the Florida Board of Education, a reporter at the conference Thursday asked Diaz and DeSantis to be clear about who the law would apply to in K-12 public schools after the third grade, and why.

According to Diaz, everyone, because state standards “don’t incorporate gender ideology” and apply to all Florida students, adding that the April vote will be held only to look at the law and “provide clarity” of what it really is.

“Looking at the rule is to avoid the confusion, provide clarity for teachers on the instruction. There’s a bill going through the legislature like you said, but this rule basically says that we’re sticking to the standards and when you’re talking about K-12 instruction all the way through 12th grade, these standards don’t incorporate gender ideology or any of these theories in math, social studies, reading or anything else,” Diaz said. “We preserve the health standards, and that provides- it makes it clear for teachers what it is because there were a lot of questions about ‘age appropriate.’ Well, this clarifies it for everyone.”

Florida Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-District 28, floated the idea of expanding the Parental Rights in Education law as early as December 2022, eyeing applicability to middle school-aged students at the time. Regardless, she said that the language in the bill allowed for reconsideration down the line of, in part, the state’s definition of “age appropriate.”

“The one thing that I think could be looked at is (that) we ended it at grades one through three. I don’t think I’d be supportive of high school because kids in high school are hopefully a little bit more mature, at least, they should be,” Passidomo said in December. “But, you know, the middle school, maybe going to sixth grade or something like that.”

Get today’s headlines in minutes with Your Florida Daily:

About the Author:

Brandon, a UCF grad, joined the ClickOrlando team in November 2021. Before joining News 6, Brandon worked at WDBO.