Florida moves to expand ban on sexual orientation, gender identity teaching

(Reuters) – Florida is looking to expand its ban on teaching young children about sexual orientation and gender identity issues to include all students in its public schools under a new rule set for a vote by the state Board of Education next month.

The proposed rule is the latest move by the administration of Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, who is expected to seek his party’s 2024 nomination for president, to limit or prohibit instruction on topics conservatives consider inappropriate for the state’s classrooms.

Last year, DeSantis signed a Republican-backed measure that banned classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity for students in kindergarten through third grade. Critics denounced what they dubbed the “don’t say gay” bill.

The Florida Department of Education’s new proposal, which would not require legislative approval, would extend the ban through the 12th grade.

The proposal drew swift criticism on Wednesday from Democrats and LGBTQ rights activists, with White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre calling the proposal “completely, utterly, wrong.”

Equality Florida said the rule was advancing DeSantis’ political agenda at the expense of diverse families and educators.

Under the rule, teachers could face disciplinary action if they discuss sexual orientation or gender identity outside of mandated curriculum or health courses that parents have been briefed on and given the option to keep their children out of class for those lessons.

“There is no reason for instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity to be part of K-12 public education. Full stop,” DeSantis spokesperson Bryan Griffin tweeted on Wednesday.

The state Board of Education is scheduled to vote on the rule at its April 19 meeting.

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, California; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Lincoln Feast.)