Get to Know DeSantis-Backed School Rules Taking Effect This Year

With the school year underway in nearly all Florida counties, students and parents are once again getting acquainted with Florida’s revamped public school system under the purview of Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Republican-controlled legislature, who have carried out a historic overhaul of Sunshine State education law with an eye toward eradicating what the governor deems to be classroom indoctrination. 

It’s been a tumultuous two years as DeSantis exacted the wide-sweeping changes.

Parents have seen school board meetings erupt into frontline battlegrounds in the evolving culture war. LGBTQ Floridians watched as discussion of their existence was restricted in classrooms. And DeSantis’ popularity swelled while he relentlessly warned children were in danger of being brainwashed by woke activists. The new education regime opened the door to more local challenges to school library content, leading to a surge of book removals by school districts across the state.

The 2022 legislative session was marked by the passage of the Parental Rights in Education law, AKA the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which banned discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity through third grade. The statehouse also enacted the Individual Freedom Act, commonly known as the Stop Woke Act, which sought to restrict the teaching of systemic racism in the classroom.

During the 2023 session, the legislature picked up where it had left off. From the expansion of “Don’t Say Gay” restrictions to regulation of transgender students’ restroom use in schools, an elaborate array of school regulations have gone into effect this year, in large part targeting the LGBTQ community.

The maze of regulations has been dizzying, and keeping track is a challenge even for those closely dialed in. As students file back into their classrooms and teachers brace themselves for another semester, here’s a rundown of what new restrictions are in place. 

House Bill 1069: Pronouns and Gender Identity Ban

HB 1069 bars school employees from asking kindergarten through 12th grade students their preferred personal pronouns (“he,” “she,” or “they”). It prohibits teachers from referring to a student by pronouns that do not correspond to the person’s sex assigned by birth.

Expanding on the 2022 Parental Rights in Education law, HB 1069 bans instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity through eighth grade. It also widens parents’ ability to object to books and instructional material. Any book that is challenged on the grounds that it is sexually obscene must be removed within five days of receipt of the objection and remain unavailable to students until the issue is resolved.

HB 1 expands taxpayer-funded vouchers available to parents of K-12 students by removing income-eligibility requirements. The money can be used for tuition at private schools including unaccredited institutions and religious schools.

While DeSantis celebrated the bill’s passage as a victory for school choice, detractors say it diverts critically needed state funding away from the public school system.

The DeSantis-backed measure prohibits public colleges and universities from spending federal or state dollars on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs. It expands the powers of university presidents and governing boards while further restricting the teaching of critical race theory.

The law bars general education courses from including lessons that teach “identity politics” or are “based on theories that systemic racism, sexism, oppression, and privilege are inherent U.S. institutions and were created to maintain social, political, and economic inequities.”

The law prohibits students from using a bathroom that does not correspond to their sex assigned at birth. It directs schools to establish disciplinary procedures in their codes of conduct for students who enter the wrong bathroom and refuse to leave when asked.

Under HB 1521, it is a misdemeanor trespassing charge to use a public building restroom that does not match one’s sex assigned at birth and refuse to leave when asked by an authorized government employee.

HB 551 requires schools to certify that African American history is being taught “in a manner prescribed by” the Florida Department of Education. The law mandates that all school districts submit plans to the Department of Education each year regarding what is being taught about Black history and how it is being taught. School districts must post their plans on their website.

The bill went into effect at the same time Florida was developing controversial new standards for Black history courses under the 2022 Stop Woke Act.

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