The Florida Board of Education took the bold and prudent step on Wednesday to prohibit classroom instruction about gender identity and sexual orientation for all K-12 public school students rather than just those in grades K-3.
The vote expands a clause in last year’s Parental Rights in Education law, famously dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law by critics, who claimed it would prevent students from talking about their LGBT family members or would bar any mention of LGBT people.
When the law was initially passed in March 2022, the Standing for Freedom Center published an explainer on the law in which we showed that such charges weren’t true. The law, then and now, only prevents teachers from teaching lessons on sexual orientation or gender identity outside of a reproductive health class, which parents can opt out of. Moreover, the text of the law never even mentioned the word “gay.”
After Wednesday’s vote, Alex Lanfranconi, director of communications for the Florida Board of Education, released a statement about why the board voted for the expansion, saying,
“Educators in Florida are expected to teach to the state academic standards. The topics of gender identity and sexual orientation have no place in the classroom unless required by law. Today’s State Board action reaffirms Florida’s commitment to uphold parental rights and keep indoctrination out of our schools.”
Chancellor for K-12 education Paul Burns further explained,
“The purpose of the amendments to these rules is to continue to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of Florida students and to protect the fundamental rights of parents.”
Critics claim that the expansion is an additional attempt to erase LGBT people and prevent teachers from caring for students. Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association, lamented, “When you see a rule that comes out such as this one, it limits the abilities for teachers and staff and administrators and others to truly care for love and support every child that comes through in the classroom.”
Shari Gewanter, a first-grade teacher in Tallahassee who is openly gay, spoke before the Board of Education to express her opposition to the expanded prohibition, saying that her goal is to make the classroom a safe space for LGBTQ students and that she will break the law if necessary.
“Educators hold a vital role in the relationships that unfold with our students and their families. And in all the years that I’ve been teaching, I’ve felt comfortable presenting myself as I am in my classroom. Until recently. There is now fear around that.”
Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. countered that the change is about helping teachers understand their role. “We’re not removing anything here,” he said. “All we are doing is we are setting the expectations so our teachers are clear: that they are to teach to the standards. We want to be clear that our teachers are there to teach.”
He’s right. Teachers have forgotten their role. They are hired and employed to teach academic subjects like reading, mathematics, and other approved curriculum to their students. It is not the teachers’ responsibility, nor their right, to teach children about sexual activity, sexual orientation, or gender identity. It is also not part of the job description for teachers to “feel comfortable presenting themselves” as sexually active or openly gay in any classroom, much less to those in the first grade, as Gewanter has been doing.
In recent years, too many teachers have embraced the harebrained idea that their students are “their kids,” and they often talk about how they are there to love, support, or affirm students, particularly if that means encouraging them to define themselves as LGBTQ and hide it from their parents.
In so doing, they have not only blurred but nearly eradicated the line between “teacher as non-parental adult tasked with teaching academic subjects” to “bleeding-heart pseudo-adoptive parent who must rescue all students from their cold-hearted and close-minded parents.”
Think about it: In what other area of public life is it acceptable to discuss sexual activity and sexual orientation with children, or even other adults? Certainly not in the workplace, where an employee discussing his or her sex life or using sexual innuendo, especially when it’s a boss talking to a subordinate, will get someone fired and possibly even sued.
Letting teachers talk to children about sex is even more inappropriate and perilous. Teachers are not only authority figures, but schoolchildren are a uniquely captive audience, mandated by law and under threat of punishment to sit quietly, listen to, and absorb whatever the teacher is saying. What’s more, how a child responds to a teacher’s instruction or demand could affect the child’s grade, making him or her more likely to comply and try to please the teacher.
The Twitter channel Libs of Tik Tok has exposed some of the teachers who feel they have a right and a duty to discuss sexual and political topics with their students or to engage in other inappropriate behavior while at school.
For example, there’s the preschool teacher who was caught taking pictures of herself in the school bathroom for her account on the pornographic website OnlyFans. Or the non-binary teacher who posted a slide show on how she teaches her students that, like her, they can be born in the wrong body and to use the pronoun Mx when addressing her. Or the high school teacher who said on TikTok that she removed the American flag because it offended her and encouraged students to instead pledge their allegiance to the Pride flag.
No doubt, there are many others doing the same or worse but who have simply not outed themselves by posting about it.
Tragically, this boundary-crossing doesn’t always stop with sex talk, nor it is left in the classroom. An alarming number of teachers — both male and female — are taking it to the next level by engaging in overt sexual acts with their students.
Over the span of two days earlier this month, six female teachers were arrested for sexual misconduct with students. On Wednesday, a 2022 “teacher of the year,” was arrested for sexually assaulting a 10-year-old student, while a 59-year-old male teacher and LGBTQ activist was arrested for raping and physically assaulting a 16-year-old boy at his school. On April 14, a second grade teacher was arrested for sexually assaulting at least three students. In March, a female teacher who was named one of San Diego County’s teachers of the year in 2022 was arrested for having a sexual relationship with a 13-year-old student.
This list goes on and on. A recently released analysis shows that in 2022, 349 public school teachers were arrested for child sex crimes. And this hardly captures the entire picture. According to a recent report, schools that catch teachers in this type of act often quietly put them on leave and let their contracts expire, leaving these sex offenders free to take a new teaching job and prey on new children.
How can this be stopped? This vote by the Florida Department of Education is a good start, and other states should follow their example. The responsibility for discussing sexuality rests solely with the child’s parents or legal guardians.
In the book of Proverbs, King Solomon left much wisdom to his sons, often speaking about the foolishness and harm of sexual immorality. Proverbs 6:20-24 says,
“My son, observe the commandment of your father
And do not forsake the teaching of your mother;
Bind them continually on your heart;
Tie them around your neck.
When you walk about, they will guide you;
When you sleep, they will watch over you;
And when you awake, they will talk to you.
For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching is light;
And reproofs for discipline are the way of life
To keep you from the evil woman,
From the smooth tongue of the adulteress.”
In Proverbs 7 King Solomon offered a similar plea and warned of a young man lacking sense who is lured in by the adulteress. Parents should follow King Solomon’s guidance and tell their children of the evil of sexual immorality and those who would lure them into it.
There are, unfortunately, teachers who would lure children into believing they are in the wrong body and should try to change their gender identity; into sending them sexual texts; into exploring online porn, masturbation, and homosexuality; or into engaging in an abusive sexual relationship.
Florida’s law reminds teachers to stay in their lane by teaching academics and leaving parenting matters to parents. This will not only help reestablish clear and healthy boundaries between teacher and student but it also reminds teachers that parents, and parents alone, have the right and responsibility to teach their children about sexuality — as well as the right to teach their children the warning signs of adults who may, wittingly or unwittingly, set them up for harm.
Ready to dive deeper into the intersection of faith and policy? Head over to our Theology of Politics series page where we’ve published several long-form pieces that will help Christians navigate where their faith should direct them on political issues.