New Restrictions For Some Florida Schools As 'Don't Say Gay' Law Goes Into Effect

Some teachers were told to hide photos of same-sex couples and stop wearing rainbows.

The highly controversial Florida education law dubbed “Don’t Say Gay” officially went into effect on Friday, July 1, even though state officials have yet to clarify exactly what conduct is banned under the new rules.

The measure purportedly asserts parental rights by banning discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade classrooms. But it is written in vague terms that obscure the scope of the law.

Orlando-area schools are apparently not taking chances. A local ABC affiliate, WFTV, reported Monday that Orange County Public Schools held a meeting between district attorneys and principals to go over the behavior that would no longer be acceptable for the youngest students.

The district’s teachers union sounded alarm bells to the news station. Email correspondence dated Tuesday that was posted to the Orange Classroom Teachers Association website discusses how K-3 teachers and school staff were advised not to wear any rainbows and to take down any photos from their desks of same-sex partners or family members. They were also allegedly encouraged not to talk about their same-sex partner to students, and not to honor the pronouns gender-nonconforming students wish to use, although the district’s general counsel pushed back against any change to the current policy of honoring those pronouns.

A district representative told WFTV that the guidance was only intended to protect the schools and staff ― including teachers’ licenses ― until the state clarified what sort of behavior is actually covered by the law.

Multiple attempts to reach administrators of Orange County schools on Friday were not successful.

The Florida Department of Education’s communications director, Alex Lanfranconi, told HuffPost that the Orange County accusations were “fake news.” Lanfranconi did not respond to a follow-up question asking when the department would offer more clarity.

Adding to the confusion, the Classroom Teachers Association later found that the state had provided some additional guidance on interpreting the law ― in court documents relating to a lawsuit on the measure. There, the state says that teachers can display family photos as they wish.

Critics say that the state is purposefully making it difficult to understand the law.

Other schools are also ensuring that their bookshelves are compliant: Palm Beach County is instructing teachers to pull LGBTQ-friendly books that might violate the state’s new law, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported earlier this year.

Other parts of the new law are even less clear. It contains provisions apparently applying to all grade levels that require schools to notify parents of changes to students’ mental and emotional health, which could involve gender identity or sexuality.

This week, Tallahassee-area schools adopted a new policy that parents will be notified when a “student who is open about their gender identity” ― presumably a reference to nonconforming students, rather than students who say they are cisgender ― is going to be using their child’s locker room or taking part on an overnight field trip.

Although the guide approved by the Leon County School Board says that no student’s gender identity should be shared without their “input and permission,” some were concerned that the policy could be used to pressure students who are not prepared to discuss their identity.

The Florida Department of Education has not said when it will release guidance on the law, and in one memo indicated that the department had a whole school year ― until June 2023 ― before it had to roll out new rules.

Waiting that long would likely sow confusion and even more discord among students and teachers, many of whom staged walkouts to protest the law earlier this year.

State Rep. Carlos Smith, a Democrat who says he is the first openly gay state representative, told NBC News he was not surprised that some schools were erring on the side of extreme caution.

“What’s happening right now — with the censorship of rainbow flags and school districts preparing to basically push LGBTQ students and teachers into the closet — is exactly what we said would happen with the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law,” Smith told the outlet.

In a statement, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre called the law “shameful” and said that “state officials who claim to champion liberty are limiting the freedom of their fellow Americans simply to be themselves.”

“This is not an issue of ‘parents’ rights.’ This is discrimination, plain and simple,” she said.

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