Opponents try again to block Florida education law

TALLAHASSEE, Florida. – After a federal judge dismissed an earlier attempt, students, parents and teachers filed a revised lawsuit seeking to block a new Florida law that restricts classroom teaching about gender identity and sexual orientation.

The challenge, filed Thursday in the Northern District of Florida, argues that the plaintiffs suffered “concrete harm” from the law (HB 1557), which sparked fierce debate this year in the Legislative Assembly and has attracted national attention.

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“They have been denied the same educational opportunities they would like to receive, in the curriculum and beyond, and they have been subjected to a discriminatory educational environment that treats LGBTQ people and issues as something to be shunned and shunned. , under penalty of discipline and accountability,” the 60-page lawsuit stated. “This kind of openly discriminatory treatment has no place in a free democratic society and should not be allowed.”

On September 29, U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor dismissed an earlier version of the lawsuit, ruling that the plaintiffs lacked standing. Winsor, however, said plaintiffs could file a revised complaint.

The law prohibits teaching about gender identity and sexual orientation in kindergarten through third grade and requires that such teaching be “age-appropriate…in accordance with state academic standards” in the upper classes.

Republican lawmakers titled the bill “Parental Rights in Education.” Opponents called it a “don’t say gay” bill.

The revised lawsuit alleges the measure violates constitutional due process, equal protection, and First Amendment rights, as well as a federal law known as Title IX, which prohibits discrimination based on sex in education programs.

The plaintiffs are two students from Miami-Dade County and Manatee County schools, two lesbian couples with children from Miami-Dade County schools, a woman with children from Orange County schools and two teachers from Broward County and Pasco County schools. The defendants are the State Board of Education, the Florida Department of Education and the school boards of Broward, Manatee, Miami-Dade, Orange and Pasco counties.

In his Sept. 29 decision rejecting the earlier version, Winsor wrote that one factor in determining standing is whether a plaintiff can demonstrate a nexus between “a defendant’s action and the resulting harm.” .

“The main problem is that most of the harms alleged by the plaintiffs are not plausibly linked to the application of the law so much as to the very existence of the law,” Winsor wrote. “The plaintiffs argue that the passing of the law, the sentiment behind it, the motivation of lawmakers, and the message the law conveys all cause them harm. But no injunction can undo all that.

The Revised Version, however, seeks to tie the law to harm. As an example, he cited a decision by the Miami-Dade County School Board to reject a resolution designating October as LGBTQ History Month; said one of the complainant students, identified by the initials MA, was unable to find a teacher willing to sponsor the Gay-Straight Alliance at a school in Manatee County; and said Broward County schools removed LGBTQ-related books after receiving complaints from conservative group Moms for Liberty.

Additionally, the lawsuit cited an Oct. 19 decision by the State Board of Education to approve a rule that could lead to teachers losing their license for breaking the law.

“The intended impact of this law is obvious,” the lawsuit said. “He seeks to undo equal inclusion of LGBTQ people and issues in Florida schools and to obstruct policies requiring equal treatment and support of LGBTQ students. Presented with vague bans under threat of litigation, schools and educators have been and will be prevented from discussing or even referencing LGBTQ people, and LGBTQ students have been and will be stigmatized, ostracized and denied the educational opportunities that their non-LGBTQ peers receive.”

Although state attorneys did not file a response to the revised lawsuit, they disputed in a June court document that the legislature “acted out of animosity against LGBTQ people.”

“The bill does not reflect any government preference about what students should learn about sexual orientation and gender identity,” the state’s attorneys wrote. “These subjects need to be taught appropriately, and for younger children they can be taught by parents, not in public school classrooms. It is a legitimate (state) interest.

Students, parents and a nonprofit group filed a separate challenge to the law this summer in federal court in Orlando. On October 20, U.S. District Judge Wendy Berger dismissed that case but, like Winsor, gave plaintiffs the opportunity to file a revised version. The deadline for filing is Thursday.

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Sam D. Gomez