PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) — As Bay District’s teachers head back to the classroom, they must navigate two new laws that govern their interaction with students.
Florida’s parental rights bill, known by its critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, was passed by the legislature and signed by Governor Ron DeSantis. District officials said they have not yet received guidance on the law from Florida’s Department of Education.
Also, the “Individual Freedom” law governs what they can say regarding the history of slavery and racism in America.
Heather Hudson, a district attorney, recorded a 15-minute video session to explain the bill to educators. It was part of an eight-part series of videos offering guidance on several issues teachers might face in the school year.
Hudson said the parental rights bill requires school officials to talk to parents when they change “services or monitoring.”
That could include monitoring a student who is always tardy or changes in how the student receives instruction.
However, the heart of the issue is whether or not teachers or school staff are required to tell parents if their child tells the staff member they are gay or transgender.
“You are not required to out every student to his or her parents just because you happen to know about the student’s identity or orientation,” Hudson said.
Hudson then uses the example of a middle school student telling a coach that she has a new girlfriend. Hudson said teachers do not have a responsibility to inform the child’s parents about that relationship any more than they would have a responsibility to tell parents about a heterosexual relationship.
“I know that none of you got into education to police the love affairs of teenagers, and that has not changed,” Hudson said.
However, a student who is consistently asking for help dealing with their sexual identity or a student who asks to be referred to by different pronouns or wants to use different bathrooms and locker rooms will require parental notification, Hudson said. District officials said this applies to all students at all grade levels.
“Then we are getting into the territory of monitoring and services,” Hudson said. “Your school administrators need to be brought into the conversation and we probably need to be having a conversation with the family.”
She added that teachers should stop certain conversations before they go too deep because teachers are now required to take some of these issues to parents.
Hudson suggested that teachers say this when these conversations begin: “‘Before you say more, I want you to know that I may have to disclose some or all of this to your parents someday,'” she said.
The law gives teachers an exemption if they reasonably believe the child will be abused if the parent discovers it.
“My parents will put me out in the street if he knows this,” is an example of something a student might say that would merit an exemption, she said.
State officials also said that teachers, even those in same-sex relationships, can put family photos on their desks, refer to their spouse’s gender and respond positively, though quickly, to a student who mentions that their parents are gay.
Also, according to state officials, the books students read can have “incidental references” to LGBTQ characters, and a student who chooses an LGBTQ book or history project should get the normal grade and feedback from teachers on those projects.
Meanwhile, “Individual Freedom” law says that teachers can’t promote or compel students to believe that they “are responsible for the past actions of others,” “should receive adverse treatment because of the past actions of others,” or “should feel guilt and anguish for the past actions of others.”
However, teachers are still expected to teach about slavery, segregation, discrimination, and unjust laws.
“You are still expected to teach and lead discussions on these hard topics,” Hudson said.
Hudson adds that the law requires teachers to lead “objective” discussions on the Holocaust and slavery.
Bay District students go back to school on Wednesday.