Florida Schools Try to Adapt to New Rules on Gender, Bathrooms and Pronouns

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As the new school year begins in Florida, parents are facing a barrage of new forms and regulations surrounding their children’s education. These forms range from specifying a student’s nickname or new name to determining their access to library books and health services. These bureaucratic changes are a result of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s push for “parental rights” in education, which includes restrictions on classroom instruction regarding gender and sexuality, and the exclusion of transgender students and staff from using bathrooms that align with their gender identity.

The new laws have created confusion and a bureaucratic tangle in some school districts. Orange County, for example, requires parents to fill out a form even if their child simply wants to be referred to by a nickname. However, school staff members have the option to not use a student’s preferred pronouns if they object. Districts are citing a law signed by Governor DeSantis that defines “sex” as corresponding to “external genitalia present at birth” and restricts instruction on gender and sexuality.

In Palm Beach County, teachers are instructed to use generic honorifics instead of a transgender colleague’s preferred honorific if it doesn’t match their sex assigned at birth. They are also discouraged from using a student’s preferred name unless they have explicit permission from the parent. This stifles conversation and damages relationships between teachers and students.

Regarding bathroom use, the new regulations state that students, staff, and visitors must use the bathroom that corresponds to the sex they were assigned at birth or use a single-stall restroom. Violating this law can result in fines for school districts. This may unintentionally out transgender students and staff who choose to use the single-stall restroom, drawing attention to their gender identity.

Literature is also under scrutiny in some districts. Parents in Lee County will receive a new “media access form” in which they can allow or prevent their children from accessing certain library books. This process allows members of the public to challenge school library books, often targeting works that focus on LGBTQ experiences or concepts such as structural racism.

The restrictions on gender and sexuality instruction have also affected courses, such as Advanced Placement Psychology. The College Board advised Florida districts not to offer the class, stating that the banned material was central to the discipline and students may not qualify for college credit. However, the state education commissioner later stated that the class could still be taught, causing confusion among districts.

In addition to these changes, the state now has the power to approve all curriculum materials for sex education and mandates teaching that male and female reproductive roles are “binary, stable, and unchangeable.”

Overall, these new regulations and laws reflect a push for “parental rights” in education in Florida, but they have created confusion, limitations, and potential discrimination against LGBTQ students and staff members.

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