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What does “don’t say gay” actually mean?

This is the Education Briefing, a weekly update on the most important education news in the United States. Sign up here to receive this newsletter in your inbox.

Happy Wednesday to you!

Today, we have an analysis of a Florida education bill that critics have called a “don’t say gay” bill.

And we have our own news: we’re making some changes to the education briefing. See below for details.


Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida is expected to sign House Bill 1557, a bill that supporters call the “Parental Rights in Education” bill and opponents call the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

My colleague Dana Goldstein has carefully read the bill itself, which is about much more than gay rights. I will extract the main points here, but I encourage you to read all his analysis.

Much of the bill would affect how mental health services are provided to children and youth in the state and how much control parents can have over those conversations. This could have far-reaching implications for children in Florida, potentially even those unconnected to LGBTQ issues.

One phrase earned Bill the nickname “Don’t Say Gay”:

Lines 97-101: Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties about sexual orientation or gender identity may not take place in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not appropriate for age or development of students in accordance with state standards.

The impact is quite clear: Teaching about gender and sexuality would be limited at all levels. But his language is vague and subject to interpretation.

The language highlights younger students, but the “age or developmentally appropriate” layout affects all ages. These terms are highly subjective and parents, school staff and students are likely to clash over ambiguities.

The bill also prohibits both “teaching” and “classroom discussion” of gender identity and sexual orientation. That too is vague.

Classroom “instruction” could mean eliminating books with LGBTQ characters or historical figures. But the “classroom discussion” is broad. This might discourage a teacher from talking about gay families with the whole class, even if some students have gay parents.

The bill also targets mental health and counseling services – a place where students often have difficult conversations about gender identity and sexuality, especially if they struggle to talk about those conversations at home. .

It comes as Florida revises its school board standards, adopted in 2010, which affirm sexual and gender diversity on the board. “The intent of the bill may be to influence the review to remove this kind of affirming language and strengthen parental rights,” Dana writes.

In doing so, the bill supports the goal of the parents’ rights movement: House Bill 1557 aims to give parents more control over what their children hear in school.

For more: Will Larkins, a high school student from Florida, wrote a guest essay for The Times about what the bill would mean for teenagers like him. “We have a mental health crisis in the queer community, and Governor DeSantis and the Republican Party want to ban the solution,” he wrote.

See for yourself: Read The law project here.

To fall: Hoping to avoid controversy, the Walt Disney Company was initially hesitant to take a public stance on the bill. Now, an internal outcry continued into its third week, and employees staged a walkout on Tuesday. More … than 150 other companies signed a Human Rights Campaign letter opposing the legislation.

Three teachers shared their fears about the shadow cast by the coronavirus pandemic.

The play opens with a conversation that Ana Barros, a middle school teacher from Oklahoma, had with a student after he burst into the hallway, slamming the door in her face.

“Tell me about that moment you just had,” she told him, in a calm conversation after class.

The student had struggled to manage his emotions before the pandemic. A year spent at home when classes were entirely remote without the school’s neutral ground had intensified his anger.

“When you’re angry, when you feel that rage,” she said, “you can’t slam the door.”

“Sorry,” the student replied softly, trying to keep his feelings in check.

“It’s okay,” she said. “But we have to find a way to channel those times when you have rage. We are on the same team. I am not against you. I want to help you.”

Ana listened to him patiently. I know her patience well: coincidentally, we went to college together and Ana was widely known for her deep empathy and vocation to teach. I can imagine the undivided attention she gave to this student.

Today, many of her students need intensive support, and it’s up to her to keep them attached to school.

“We never saw good,” she told reporters. Before the pandemic, she said, many students with disabilities and students of color at her school were “already so underserved.”

Even though mask mandates have been largely lifted and more americans say they are ready to leave the pandemic in the rearview mirror, it has been a year of survival and triage for teachers, students and their families. Ana – and teachers like her – still grapple daily with problems that Covid has left in its wake, most of which defy easy solutions.

“I’m really afraid to say that we’ve turned a corner,” Ana told reporters. “The things we were struggling with, even outside of Covid, are still there.”

In other virus news:


K-12

  • Opinion: Most parents are satisfied with their children’s school, Jessica Grose writes. Polls suggest that the most vocal critics of American public schools have no children attending them.

University


I have bittersweet news: we are making changes to the education briefing. You’ll still get our top school stories, but I won’t walk you through the news anymore.

When my editor, Adam Pasick, and I started this newsletter in August 2020, we called it the “Coronavirus Schools Briefing”. It was an intense moment: with millions of parents, teachers and students, we were trying to master the first full semester of schooling in the age of the pandemic.

In January last year, school workers began getting vaccinated and fights for education became part of wider partisan battles over culture and identity. So we became the Education Briefing, and the school reporter, Kate Taylor, joined me for a while.

Now, two years after schools closed, the virus is in a new phase: even as pediatric vaccines lag behind, mask mandates have been lifted and scientists overwhelmingly agree that children are at lower risk of serious illness.

My colleagues in the education office continue to push forward with stories about teaching, school funding and political wars. Their work inspires me and we will continue to bring you essential school news. But this newsletter, for now, is moving on to a new chapter.

Thank you for your loyal readership and for all the praise, criticism and thoughts you have shared with me. This has been one of the most challenging and rewarding projects I have ever undertaken, and I am so grateful to you for pondering these questions alongside me.


Email your thoughts to educationbriefing@nytimes.com.

What does “don’t say gay” actually mean?

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