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Florida's Parental Rights in Education law survives LGBT activists' legal challenges, will remain in effect
Photo by Steven Ferdman/Getty Images

Florida's Parental Rights in Education law survives LGBT activists' legal challenges, will remain in effect

While the law remains in effect and unchanged, LGBT activists have desperately attempted to spin the settlement as a win.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) ratified House Bill 1557 in March 2022, making the Parental Rights in Education Act the law of the land despite sustained opposition and mischaracterizations by woke corporations, the liberal media, and radical leftists in the Biden administration.

After the bill's passage, critics' hopes centered on a legal challenge brought against Florida by a band of LGBT activists keen on nullifying the law. The challengers' desperate two-year effort to scale back parental rights and ensure that sexualizing propaganda could thrive in the classroom did not ultimately have the impact they likely hoped for.

The DeSantis administration and the LGBT challengers filed a settlement Monday, bringing the legal battle to an end.

While touted as a win by the LGBT challengers, the parental rights law won't actually change — the Sunshine State need only provide school districts with greater clarity about how the law ought to be implemented.

"We fought hard to ensure this law couldn't be maligned in court, as it was in the public arena by the media and large corporate actors," stated Ryan Newman, general counsel for the DeSantis administration. "We are victorious, and Florida's classrooms will remain a safe place under the Parental Rights in Education Act."

The law

The Parental Rights in Education law

  • prohibits teachers from taking up issues of sexual orientation or gender identity in K-3 classrooms;
  • ejects age-inappropriate content at higher grade levels; and
  • notifies parents about forthcoming healthcare services offered at school at the beginning of every school year, affording them the opportunity to opt their kids out.

When DeSantis ratified the law, Florida Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez (R) said that the law had been "maliciously maligned by those who prefer slogans and sound bites over substance and common sense."

"Fortunately, Governor DeSantis and I believe that parents should have a say," continued Nuñez. "We will not back down to woke corporation and their same tired tactics that are steeped in hypocrisy. As a mother of three, I am committed to protecting the rights of parents."

The challenge

The affirmation of parents' natural rights along with the protection of children from both sexualizing content and non-straight propaganda proved too much for some LGBT activists to bear.

A group including Equality Florida, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP, and Family Equality originally sued DeSantis and the Florida State Board of Education the day after the law's passage, claiming the Parental Rights in Education Act amounted to "an effort by the state to use its power over public schools to demean and deny the existence of people whom the Supreme Court has repeatedly held to be protected."

The complainants also claimed the law was too vague, alleging "nobody knows exactly what the statutory language covers."

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, Tallahassee Division, tossed the activists' complaint in September 2022 for lack of legal standing. U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor noted that the "principal problem is that most of plaintiffs' alleged harm is not plausibly tied to the law's enforcement so much as the law's very existence."

The complainants were given an opportunity to amend their complaint and did so in October 2022.

Florida sought dismissal of the amended complaint in late November 2022 because it apparently suffered the same mistaken view that sunk the previous attempt. Evidently, Winsor agreed.

Winsor reportedly tossed the suit again in February 2023.

"Plaintiffs have shown a strident disagreement with the new law, and they have alleged facts to show its very existence causes them deep hurt and disappointment," wrote the judge. "But to invoke a federal court's jurisdiction, they must allege more. Their failure to do so requires dismissal."

The settlement

The complainants and the state filed an agreement Monday with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, which serves to clear up the LGBT activists' apparent confusion about the letter of the law.

While the law will remain in place, Politico reported the Florida Department of Education is required to reiterate what the law actually entails.

For instance, the FDOE must inform school districts that the law bars "classroom instruction" on so-called gender identity and sexual orientation. That also means a neutral approach must be taken on matters of sexuality, such that it is impermissible to tell children that straightness is superior to non-straight sexual preferences.

Among the various clarifications that appear to correspond with Republican lawmakers' original intent and design is the indication that teachers are barred from instructing on topics of sexual preferences and so-called gender identity, but are not forbidden from "mere discussion of them."

Additionally, the clarifications detailed in the settlement highlight that the "Statute restricts the use of books 'to instruct' 'students on the concepts of sexual orientation or gender identity' ... but the Statute does not restrict mere 'literary references to a gay or transgender person or to a same-sex couple.'"

"Per the agreement, the challengers will drop their case and their claim that the Parental Rights in Education act is facially unconstitutional."

It is expected the court will now dismiss the case in short order.

The response

The governor's office noted in a Monday statement that, upon signing the bill in 2022, "in typical fashion, the activists turned to the courts to stop the legislatively enacted will of the people. Frequently carrying water for the activists, the media wrote countless stories lying about the intent, design, and application of the law."

"The activists carried these same lies into the courtroom," continued the statement. "Thankfully, to no avail."

The governor's office touted the settlement as a win, stressing the "law remains in effect, and children will be protected from radical gender and sexual ideology in the classroom."

The activists behind the challenge attempted to paint the outcome as a "historic settlement agreement."

Although the law is unchanged, Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP claimed in a joint statement, "The agreement effectively nullifies the most dangerous and discriminatory impacts of Florida's controversial 'don't Say Gay Law,' and makes clear that the law must be applied neutrally and is no license to discriminate against or erase LGBTQ+ families."

Roberta Kaplan, lead counsel for the challengers, continued to advance the false narrative about the law in her remarks, stating, "Simply put, the State of Florida has now made it clear that LGBTQ+ kids, parents, and teachers in Florida can, in fact, say that they are gay."

"This settlement is a giant step toward repairing the immense damage these laws and the dangerous political rhetoric has inflicted on our families, our schools, and our state," said Nadine Smith, the executive director of Equality Florida. "The message to school districts, superintendents, and teachers alike is clear: Protect every student and respect every family."

Jaymes Black, the CEO of Family Equality, claimed that "compassion has been restored to the classroom thanks to today's settlement."

Bryan Griffin, communications director for DeSantis, lambasted the Associated Press for pushing the LGBT activists preferred narrative regarding the law and the settlement.

"They lied when it was a bill, parroting activist scare tactics that it could somehow punish student to student conversation ('Don't Say Gay')," wrote Griffin. "Now that the activists lost in court today (the law remains in effect), they run a headline like this making it seem like something has changed. It hasn't."

"Kids remain safe in Florida from radical gender and sexual ideology being forced on them by adults without the knowledge of parents," added Griffin.

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