TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The Florida Board of Education approved a rule Wednesday that would expand the Parental Rights in Education Law, known by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” law.

The rule will prohibit classroom instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation in grades K-12, unless it’s required by state academic standards.

To date, the law only impacts students K-3.

What You Need To Know

  • Read: Proposed Florida Board of Eduction rule

  • Rule will expand restrictions to grades 4-12

  • Classroom instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation would be prohibited

  • Measure was approved Wednesday 

“Shall not intentionally provide classroom instruction to students in grades 4 through 12 on sexual orientation or gender identity unless such instruction is either expressly required by state academic standards as adopted in Rule 6A-1.09401, F.A.C., or is part of a reproductive health course or health lesson for which a student’s parent has the option to have his or her student not attend,” the proposed rule states.

But Nancy Velardi, a former Pinellas Park High School teacher who now serves as union president, feels state leaders don’t understand what is at stake.

“We would like to believe that every child has a warm and loving home and an accepting home that will always do the right thing for the child, but unfortunately, that’s just not the case,” Velardi said.

For 18 years of her teaching career, Velardi served as supervisor of the high school’s Gay-Straight Alliance club. In her time there, she says she helped a number of LGBTQ students navigate their way through high school and taught them skills on how to speak with their families. She also provided support to students who didn’t have the support at home.

“I’m afraid what’s going to happen is what almost did happen to a few kids that I came across in my 18 years of doing this. They attempted suicide,” she said. “My biggest fear is the loss of life that may happen to young people who are not mature enough to understand that things do get better and things will work out if they just persevere.”

When questioned during a March 23 press conference, Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz said the reason behind the proposed expansion is to avoid confusion and provide clarity for teachers.

“This rule basically says that we’re sticking to the standards and when you’re talking about K-12 instruction, all the way through 12th grade, these standards don’t incorporate gender ideology or any of these theories in math, social studies, reading or anything else,” he said. “We preserve the health standards, and that makes it clear for teachers what it is. There were a lot of questions about age appropriate and this clarifies it for everyone.”

Teachers could face severe disciplinary action, including being suspended or fired if they go against the ruling.

A similar bill, SB 1320, is also working its way through the state Senate.

Wednesday's hearing on the policy was held at the Florida State Capitol.