Florida education bill sparks controversy across U.S.

By Lauren Kolodziej, Staff Writer

Controversy is swirling all around the United States as many of them are considering passing something like the Parental Rights in Education bill (House Bill 1557) of Florida. However, with recent debate, some may know it better by its trending-title, the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

The Parental Rights Bill was created for the purpose of setting up guidelines for public schools and parents in collaboration. Failure to follow the laws of the bill allows parents to sue schools and districts. Much of the bill consists of prohibiting the denial of student records to parents by schools and districts, as well as prohibiting schools from withholding information to parents regarding their child’s mental, physical, and emotional health. However, the kicker that has caused strong debate lies in Line 22, where the bill discusses “prohibiting classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in certain grade levels or in a specified manner.”

Since before the bill was proposed, parents around the country have expressed concern over curriculum changes. These changes include the discussion of gender identity and sexuality preferences in public school systems, and many supporters of the bill remain parents of children still in elementary, middle, and high schools. Tamara Farah, executive director of Moms for America, said that the lack of visibility in the classroom is the greatest concern for parents, and they would like more of a say in their child’s upbringing when it comes to education.

The primary argument by people who oppose the bill is the potential harm this bill could cause to children’s mental health and well-being. According to Healthline, the strong belief is that putting a stop to the current curriculum can cause lasting effects on children’s identities by making them feel as if they need to hide their true selves, and this bill politicizes their identities. With this strain being placed on one’s identity, comes stress, anxiety, and depression, ultimately leading to withdrawal from activities, difficulty concentrating, and poor academic performance.

While the concerns of the opposition is clear, those in support have pointed out Subsection 3 of Section 1 of House Bill 1557, which states: “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.” The argument then boils down to what age is appropriate to begin discussing gender identity and sexual orientation.

In an interview with Corey Helm, an Illinois teacher of 30 years, and mother of four, she discusses her point of view as a mother. She personally feels that middle school grades (6th grade and up) are an appropriate time to discuss gender identity and sexuality with kids.

“There’s so much growth during puberty, which is when kids start to understand themselves and learn more about their bodies,” Helm said. “Fourth and fifth grade are just the very beginning of that stage for kids, and anything before that could just be confusing to them.”

Helm has been with the same middle and high schools for all of her children, except for one who will be attending high school in Florida soon. She is interested in seeing the difference in the curriculum between the two states.

According to The 74 Million, a news site covering current education in America, most states have introduced some sort of bill that closely follows the Parental Rights in Education bill of Florida. However, many have been shut down, primarily in Democratic dominated states, and continue to advance more in Republican states. Whether or not school districts and educators who are in disagreement with the bill will follow this policy remains to be seen, as it is a subject that heavily involves them and their students.