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Florida students and teachers can now 'say gay' in classrooms again. Here's what it actually means for teachers and schools.

Students protest in Miami
Students protesting in Miami, April 2023. (Marco Bello/Reuters)

Florida education officials and civil rights attorneys for LGBTQ advocates, students, teachers, and parents have settled a two-year lawsuit filed after the passage of the so-called Don’t Say Gay bill.

Under the terms of the settlement announced Monday, the controversial law that bars classroom instruction of LGBTQ issues will remain in place, but teachers and students will now be allowed to discuss those topics on school grounds so long as they are not part of a lesson plan.

Both sides of the debate hailed the settlement as providing clarity to the law. A spokesperson for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis called it a major win against LGBTQ groups “who sought to stop Florida’s efforts to keep radical gender and sexual ideology out of the classrooms of public school children in kindergarten through third grade.”

GLSEN — an LGBTQ organization that advocates for students and educators in grades K-12 — told Yahoo News in a statement that the settlement dismantled “the vague and harmful provisions” of the original law and will “strengthen equality standards for LGBTQ students, families, and educators.”

🏳️‍🌈 What’s in the deal?

The deal requires the Florida Board of Education to make clear to schools that the following is now permissible under state law:

  • Students mentioning their own sexual or gender identity on school grounds

  • Classroom references to a person’s family members and their sexual or gender identity

  • Debate among students regarding LGBTQ issues, so long as it is not a part of a lesson plan

  • Educators displaying photos of LGBTQ family members, or referring to an LGBTQ spouse or partner

  • Library books that feature LGBTQ characters

  • Participation in extracurricular activities that cater to the LGBTQ community

  • Anti-bullying programs for LGBTQ students

🧑‍⚖️ How did 'Don't Say Gay' come about?

On March 28, 2022, DeSantis signed Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Act, which banned classroom instruction about sexual orientation or gender identity in the state’s public K-12 schools.

The law, which was championed by conservatives who claimed schools were promoting a liberal agenda, left some educators, students, parents and advocates for LGBTQ rights on edge about the extent of the law’s reach. Opponents said the bill led to confusion about what could be discussed, read or displayed on school grounds.

In March 2022, 19 plaintiffs sued the state of Florida for limiting classroom instruction in a way that was not developmentally appropriate.

🧑‍🏫 Some questions remain

“The settlement doesn't remove the law,” Shahar Pasch, an education lawyer who represents children and families, told Yahoo News. “It just provides more context and guidance to districts about implementation of the law. So it narrows it a bit.”

But the deal leaves some questions.

“A teacher can go through these very specific items listed in the settlement and still say ‘I can put a picture of my family up. I can have a safe space picture up, but am I going to be sued if I have a pride flag up?”

Another section of the settlement references school library books — a major point of contention in 2023 when Florida school district officials banned books and material containing LBGTQ characters and themes from classes and libraries. But library books are not considered classroom instruction and are not covered by the statute.

“If you're in the media center, and you're in second grade, and the teacher picks out a book with two gay characters to read to the class, have we now moved from having it be just a library book to now being classroom instruction? The settlement isn't clear about that.”