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DeSantis says he is giving parents more control with bill's signing. Some say it will hurt children

The Florida capitol
News Service of Florida
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The governor said the new law will give parents more control over the upbringing of their children.

One of the founders of a Sarasota nonprofit also said the threat of lawsuits could stop teachers from seeking jobs in Florida.

After months of protest from LGBTQ advocates and backlash from lawmakers and individuals across the nation, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the Parental Rights in Education bill Monday.

Though DeSantis contends the law will allow parents more of a hand in their student’s education, some Tampa Bay parents worry the law will hurt LGBTQ students.

The law halts discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity prior to the fourth grade, while allowing "age appropriate" topics for older students. It also stipulates that parents be contacted first about health care services offered at school.

After signing the bill at the Classical Preparatory School in Spring Hill, the governor said the new law will give parents more control over the upbringing of their children.

“We will continue to recognize that in the state of Florida, parents have a fundamental role in the education, health care, and well-being of their children,” he said. “We will not move from that."

State Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran added that the law will set clear guidelines for teachers dealing with these conversations and topics.

“I think if you talk to teachers, you'll find that teachers are supportive, they want guardrails,” he said. “Where it's frustrating for a teacher is for someone to say, 'Hey, you're in trouble, you crossed the line,' and nobody said the line was there."

Paulina Testerman is one of the founders of the Sarasota nonprofit Support Our Schools, which supports equitable public education. While the organization supports parents’ rights, she said the bill rewards bad parenting.

"If you want to be involved in your children's education and their lives, you need to foster that relationship at home,” she said. “And you won't have to rely on bills like this one."

Testerman said some of the group's parents have children who identify as LGBTQ, but worries about those with less supportive parents. The law intentionally harms these children, she said.

"They know that they can't come to their parents to discuss these things and they're just going to just mute them,” she said. “And they're not going to have a way to have these conversations."

READ MORE: These trans youth say Florida's so-called 'Don't Say Gay' bill puts them at risk

Testerman said the intent of the bill, and others filed in the 2022 legislative session, is to distract the state’s parents from the privatization of public schools.

“He’s creating a problem that doesn’t exist, and then he’s also providing the people with a solution, which is privatizing public education, and that is the ultimate goal.”

The bill could have adverse effects on the state's education system, noting that the state is already experiencing a teacher shortage, she added.

"This is going to be a ripple effect that not only impacts our LGBT students, but also impacts teachers and staff members who are trying to provide a safe, inclusive environment for their students,” she said. “There's a threat of being sued now. And that's a scary thought if you're looking to teach in the state of Florida.”

Testerman added that the threat of lawsuits could stop teachers from seeking jobs in Florida.

The law is scheduled to go into effect in July, barring any challenges.

One state advocacy organization, Equality Florida, pledged to file a lawsuit against the bill, according to News Service of Florida.

“Litigation is coming. And it will be swift and fierce, and we believe successful,” said Joe Saunders, the organization’s political director and a former state lawmaker.

Bailey LeFever is a reporter focusing on education and health in the greater Tampa Bay region.