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What Does ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Actually Say? – The New York Times

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Education Briefing
A close read of the controversial Florida bill.
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This is the Education Briefing, a weekly update on the most important news in U.S. education. Sign up here to get this newsletter in your inbox.
Good Wednesday to you!
Today, we have an analysis of a piece of education legislation in Florida that critics have referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
And we have news of our own: We’re making some changes to the Education Briefing. See below for details.
Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida is expected to sign House Bill 1557, a proposed law that supporters call the “Parental Rights in Education” bill and opponents refer to as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
My colleague Dana Goldstein has done a close reading of the bill itself, which is about much more than gay rights. I’m going to pull out the main points here, but I encourage you to read her whole analysis.
Most of the bill would affect how mental health services are delivered to the state’s children and adolescents and how much control parents can have over those conversations. It could have far-reaching implications for Florida children, potentially even those who have no connection to L.G.B.T.Q. issues.
One sentence has earned the bill the “Don’t Say Gay” nickname:
Lines 97-101: 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 in accordance with state standards.
The impact is clear enough: Instruction on gender and sexuality would be constrained in all grades. But its language is vague and subject to interpretation.
The language highlights the youngest students, but the “age appropriate or developmentally appropriate” provision affects all ages. Those terms are highly subjective, and parents, school staff and students are likely to clash over the ambiguities.
The bill also prohibits both “instruction” and “classroom discussion” of gender identity and sexual orientation. That, too, is vague.
Classroom “instruction” could mean eliminating books with L.G.B.T.Q. characters or historical figures. But “classroom discussion” is broad. That could discourage a teacher from speaking about gay families with the whole class, even if some students have gay parents.
The bill also targets mental health and counseling services — a place where students often have difficult conversations about gender identity and sexuality, especially if they struggle to talk about those conversations at home.
It comes as Florida revises its school counseling standards, adopted in 2010, which affirm gender and sexual diversity in counseling. “The intent of the bill may be to influence the revision to remove this type of affirming language and strengthen parents’ rights,” Dana writes.
In so doing, the bill fits in with the goal of the parents’ rights movement: House Bill 1557 aims to give parents more control over what their children hear at school.
For more: Will Larkins, a high school junior in Florida, wrote a guest essay for The Times about what the bill would mean for teenagers like him. “We have a mental health crisis in the queer community, and Governor DeSantis and the Republican Party want to outlaw the solution,” he writes.
See for yourself: Read the bill here.
Fallout: Hoping to avoid controversy, the Walt Disney Company initially shied away from taking a public stance on the bill. Now, an internal outcry has stretched into its third week, and employees staged a walkout on Tuesday. More than 150 other companies have signed a Human Rights Campaign letter opposing the legislation.
Three teachers shared their fears about the long shadow cast by the coronavirus pandemic.
The piece opens with a conversation that Ana Barros, a middle school teacher in Oklahoma, had with a student after he stormed into the hallway, slamming the door in her face.
“Walk me through that moment you just had,” she said to him, in a calm conversation after class.
The student had struggled to manage his emotions before the pandemic. A year spent at home when classes were fully remote without the neutral ground of school had intensified his anger.
“When you’re mad, when you’re feeling that rage,” she said, “you can’t slam the door.”
“Sorry,” the student replied softly, trying to keep his feelings in check.
“It’s OK,” she said. “But we’ve got to find a way to channel those moments when you’ve got rage. We’re on the same team. I’m not against you. I want to help you.”
Ana listened to him with patience. I know her patience well: Coincidentally, we went to college together, and Ana was widely known for her deep empathy and her calling to teach. I can imagine the undivided attention she gave to this student.
Now, many of her students require intensive support, and it’s on her to keep them tethered to school.
“We haven’t seen fine, ever,” she told reporters. Prepandemic, she said, many of the students with disabilities and students of color at her school were “already so underserved.”
A contentious issue. Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida is expected to sign a bill that aims to constrain the state’s public schools from teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity. Here is what to know:
Diverging perspectives. The proposal, which supporters call the “Parental Rights in Education” bill, but that opponents refer to as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, has become a national lightning rod since the Florida legislature passed the bill on March 8.
What the bill says. The bill would ban classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade. In other grades, lessons on those topics must be “age appropriate or developmentally appropriate.” The bill also has a parental notification requirement when children seek counseling.
What the bill’s supporters say. Those in favor of the bill say that it is limited in scope, and affirms parents’ rights to direct the upbringing of their children.
What the bill’s critics say. Opponents  say that the bill could have a chilling effect on teaching and counseling. As he faced growing criticism over his silence, Disney’s chief executive said the company was opposed to the legislation, and President Biden called the legislation “hateful.”
Even though mask mandates have largely lifted, and more Americans say they are ready to leave the pandemic in the rearview mirror, this has been a year of survival and triage for teachers, students and their families. Ana — and teachers like her — are still grappling daily with issues that Covid has left in its wake, most of which defy easy solutions.
“I really feel scared to say that we’ve turned a corner,” Ana told the reporters. “The things that we were struggling with, even outside of Covid, are just still there.”
In other virus news:
The Los Angeles Unified School District, the country’s second largest, has stopped requiring masks in an agreement with the teachers’ union.
Mayor Eric Adams declared that New York City’s school mask mandate for children under 5 would end on April 4 if cases stayed low.
K-12
Two Republican governors — Gov. Eric Holcomb of Indiana and Gov. Spencer Cox of Utah — vetoed bills that would have barred transgender girls from participating in girls’ school sports.
A police officer in Kenosha, Wis., resigned as a school security officer after video showed him putting his knee on the neck of a 12-year-old.
Police arrested a white 15-year-old high school student in Louisiana on a hate crime charge after he was captured on video appearing to whip a Black student with a belt.
Opinion: Most parents are happy with their kids’ schools, Jessica Grose writes. Polling suggests that the most vocal critics of American public schools do not have children attending them.
College
A Louisiana man was convicted of defrauding the federal student loan system of more than $1.4 million by posing as students.
A professor at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., is suing his own students in federal court after he discovered that his exams had been uploaded to a popular website.
A great read: A professor at Columbia University identified several data discrepancies that the school provided to U.S. News & World Report, renewing the debate over the value and accuracy of college rankings.
I have some bittersweet news: We’re making some changes to the Education Briefing. You’ll still get our top stories about schools, but I won’t be leading you through the news anymore.
When my editor, Adam Pasick, and I started this newsletter in August 2020, we called it the “Coronavirus Schools Briefing.” It was an intense moment: Along with millions of parents, teachers and students, we were trying to get a handle on the first full semester of pandemic-era schooling.
In January of last year, school employees started to get vaccinated, and fights over education became part of larger partisan battles over culture and identity. So we became the “Education Briefing,” and the schools reporter Kate Taylor joined me for a spell.
Now, two years after schools closed, the virus is in a new phase: Even though pediatric vaccines lag, mask mandates have lifted and scientists overwhelmingly agree that kids are at a lower risk of severe disease.
My colleagues on the Education desk are still pushing ahead on stories about teaching, school funding and political wars. Their work inspires me, and we’ll keep bringing you essential school news. But this newsletter, for now, is moving to a new chapter.
Thank you for your steadfast readership and for all the praise, criticism and reflection you have shared with me. This has been one of the hardest and most rewarding projects I have ever undertaken, and I am so grateful to you all for thinking about these issues alongside me.
Email your thoughts to educationbriefing@nytimes.com.
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