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VERIFY fact sheet: Florida's so-called 'don't say gay' bill, explained

State lawmakers advanced what's officially known as the "parental rights in education" bill. Here’s what the bill does and does not say.
Credit: AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell
Florida State Representatives. FILE.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Gov. Ron DeSantis signed HB 1557 on March 28 at Classical Preparatory School in Spring Hill. You can read more here.

Original story:

After contentious debate and a handful of Republican state lawmakers breaking from their party to vote against it, a controversial bill limiting classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity is headed to the governor's desk.

HB 1557, which opponents have dubbed “Don't Say Gay,” is officially known as the “Parental Rights in Education” bill. It passed out of the Senate on Tuesday after House lawmakers approved it last month.

The bill has garnered national attention, including condemnation from President Joe Biden and the White House.

Republican Rep. Joe Harding, the House bill’s sponsor, has argued the measure is meant to give parents more oversight of what's happening with their children while in school.

The bill prohibits schools, “from discouraging or prohibiting parental notification and involvement in critical decisions affecting a student's mental, emotional, or physical well-being.” 

According to legislative analysis of the bill, "multiple school districts in Florida maintain policies that exclude parents from discussions and decisions on sensitive topics relating to students."

The bill also gives parents the right to pursue legal options if they believe a school’s procedures are infringing on their “fundamental right…to make decisions regarding the upbringing and control of their children.”

But the clause that has garnered the most attention pertains to restrictions on LGBTQ-related instruction.

Changes were made and amendments were proposed and withdrawn prior to the passage of the bill.

Here's what the bill advanced by lawmakers does and does not say:

THE SOURCES

FAST FACTS

  • The bill places limits on classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • An amendment that critics said would’ve required schools to 'out' a students to their parents, despite concerns of abuse or neglect, was withdrawn.
  • Parents can sue a school if they feel it is in violation.
  • Nowhere in the bill does it require a school district to inform parents if another student in their child’s class is gay.

THE QUESTION

Does the bill passed in the House ban discussion of topics relating to sexual orientation and gender identity?

THE ANSWER

This is false.

No, the bill places limits on classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity.

WHAT WE FOUND

When it was first filed, the bill said schools could not “encourage classroom discussion” about sexual orientation or gender identity. But following criticism the language was too broad, “discussion” was changed to “instruction” in the House bill.

Instruction isn't defined in the bill.

Harding said in a prior committee hearing the bill applies to lesson plans, not to spontaneous or informal classroom conversation.

The bill initially applied to "primary grade levels," which critics also said was too broad. The House bill now says restrictions on instruction apply to students in kindergarten through third grade, “or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”

Harding previously said during a committee hearing that means it's possible topics of sexual orientation or gender identity could be barred in classrooms beyond third grade if the school district deems them not to be age or developmentally appropriate.

The Senate version of the bill — which remains in committee — still reads that a "school district may not encourage classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in primary grade levels."

THE QUESTION

Does the bill ban teaching young children about sex?

THE ANSWER

This is false.

Despite claims from supporters nowhere in the bill does it limit discussion on sex.

WHAT WE FOUND

The bill limits instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity. 

Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, attempted to amend the bill to be more specific by changing “sexual orientation and gender identity” to “human sexuality and sexual activity."

“If the intent is not to marginalize anyone let’s make sure we aren’t,” Brandes previously said. “Let’s be clear.”

His GOP colleagues voted down the idea.

The language would've specified that instruction about sexual activity, in general, would be banned for certain grade levels. Supporters of the amendment, including Equality Florida, said it was a step in the right direction, as debate over the bill has often conflated sexual orientation and sexual activity.

THE QUESTION

Are schools required to "out" LGBTQ students who confide in staff about their sexual orientation or gender identity?

THE ANSWER

This is false.

No, schools are required to notify parents about any change to their child's "mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being." But there are exceptions if there are concerns disclosing that information could result in abuse or neglect.

An amendment that eliminated those exceptions was withdrawn prior to Thursday's vote.

WHAT WE FOUND

A controversial amendment filed by the bill’s sponsor that riled opponents and spread like fire across social media was withdrawn before Thursday’s vote.

The bill – without the amendment – makes exceptions for schools to withhold certain information about a child’s “mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being” from parents if a “reasonably prudent person” fears disclosure could result in abuse or neglect.

The scrapped amendment would’ve required schools to disclose information to parents within six weeks of learning it, even if there were fears it would result in abuse or neglect. Opponents argued it would’ve led to already vulnerable students being forcibly “outed” to unsupportive parents.

THE QUESTION

VERIFY viewer Colby asked: Are schools legally required to inform parents if another student in their classroom is gay?

THE ANSWER

This is false.

No, Florida schools are not required to inform parents if another student in their child’s class is gay under HB 1557. Nowhere in the bill does it require a school district to inform parents if another student in their child’s class is gay.

The VERIFY team works to separate fact from fiction so that you can understand what is true and false. Please consider subscribing to our daily newsletter, text alerts and our YouTube channel. You can also follow us on Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and TikTok. Learn More »

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