The Florida Board of Education has approved a ban on classroom instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in all grades, expanding the law critics call “Don’t Say Gay” at the request of Governor Ron DeSantis as he gears up for an expected presidential run in the United States.
The proposal, passed on Wednesday, will take effect after a procedural notice period that lasts about a month, according to an education department spokesman.
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The rule change would ban lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity from grades 4 through 12, unless required by existing state standards or as part of reproductive health instruction that students can choose not to take.
Florida currently bans such lessons in kindergarten through third grade.
The DeSantis administration put forward the proposal last month as part of the Republican’s aggressive conservative agenda, with the governor leaning heavily into cultural divides ahead of his looming White House candidacy.
DeSantis has not commented on the proposal. He previously directed questions to Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr, who said the proposal was meant to clarify confusion around the existing law and reinforce that teachers should not deviate from existing curriculums.
“Our instruction should be based on state academic standards,” Paul Burns, chancellor of the state’s division of public schools, told board members on Wednesday.
The prohibition, which began last year with the law banning sexual orientation and gender identity lessons in kindergarten through third grade, has drawn intense backlash from critics who argue it marginalises LGBTQ+ people and has vague terms that result in self-censorship from teachers. Democratic US President Joe Biden has called it “hateful”.
The current law is also the root of an ongoing feud with The Walt Disney Company, one of the state’s largest employers and political donors.
The entertainment giant publicly opposed the legislation last year, and as punishment, DeSantis pushed lawmakers to give him control of a self-governing district that Disney oversees in its theme park properties.
Before a set of new DeSantis appointees could assume control of the district, Disney’s board passed restrictive covenants that strip the incoming members of most of their powers, blunting the governor’s retaliation.
DeSantis has directed the chief inspector general to investigate the Disney board’s move and said he would take additional actions against the company through legislation.