Apr 20, 2023 - Politics

Tampa Bay students brace for more curriculum fights

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Dylan Cowan protested, signed petitions and created an Instagram page opposing the law critics dubbed "Don't Say Gay." Nothing worked. Now, the Tampa high school student is watching another curriculum war unfold.

What's happening: Florida's Board of Education approved a rule Wednesday barring classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity for all grades.

  • The rule prohibits teaching middle school and high school students about such topics unless "required by state academic standards" or part of a reproductive health lesson.
  • The board is building upon restrictions from the Parental Rights in Education law, which focuses on classroom instruction in kindergarten through third grade. Teachers who violate the prohibition could have their licenses revoked.

Zoom in: Cowan, a junior at Howard W. Blake who identifies as gender fluid, said they're worried the bill will make queer students across Florida feel unsafe at school.

  • "It's made me very uneasy about going to school," Cowan told Axios. "I'm holding my breath, hoping I graduate before too much goes into effect."

The big picture: Gov. Ron DeSantis has become a champion for conservative cultural issues — gearing up for a potential 2024 presidential run that would pit him against former President Trump, who in recent days has picked up endorsements from more Florida lawmakers.

  • The rule goes beyond legislation the Republican-majority Legislature is considering, which would expand the prohibition through eighth grade.

What they're saying: "Educators in Florida are expected to teach to the state academic standards," Alex Lanfranconi, a spokesperson for the state education department, said.

  • "The topics of gender identity and sexual orientation have no place in the classroom, unless required by law."

The other side: The "rule will spread the confusion caused by the 'Don't Say Gay' law all the way up to high school graduation," state House Minority leader Fentrice Driskell told Axios.

  • "I try to take pride in where I come from," Cowan said, "but I don't have that with Florida anymore. I can't feel connected to a state that wants me gone."

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