A Parental Rights Bill aims to keep parents informed of any changes at school that affect the mental, emotional or physical well-being of their child. It has the attention of those who are concerned about LGBTQ rights.

“The bill prohibits school districts from maintaining procedures that withhold information or encourage students not to disclose to their parents information relating to the mental, emotional, or physical health of students.” Rep. Joe Harding, R-Ocala, introduced his bill, which says such information can only be disclosed if disclosure would result in the abandonment, abuse or other harm of a child.

Here’s the part that got the most attention from the House Education and Employment Committee: “The bill limits discussions about sexual orientation or gender identity to those that are appropriate to the age and development of students, while prohibiting a school district from encouraging discussion of these topics in elementary classrooms.

The bill affects students in kindergarten through 5th grade, the ages that Harding calls “modifiable and sensitive.” Parents could sue districts that don’t comply.

“How did you determine that it is in no way appropriate for a school to encourage discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in the primary grades?” asked Rep. Kristen Arrington, D-Kissimmee.

“Children ask a lot of questions; conversations are going to happen,” Harding replied. “That’s the reality of teaching and working with students. So it will happen. What we are talking about are specific procedures that the school has.

“We are appalled by the provision in the bill prohibiting schools from discussing sexual orientation and gender identity in elementary classrooms,” said John Harris Mauer, director of public policy for Equality Florida, during the public comments on the bill. “Conversations about us are not something dangerous that should be banned. It’s deeply damaging and it sends a terrible message to our youth, including LGBTQ youth or youth who have LGBTQ parents. »

January Littlejohn took to the podium to explain why she supports the bill. “I am a licensed Mental Health Counselor in the State of Florida and a stay-at-home mom here to three beautiful children in Tallahassee.” Littlejohn said it’s an issue that has deeply affected his family. She said it started with a discussion her daughter had with school administrators about her bathroom preference. The school wouldn’t provide information about what was discussed – without her daughter’s permission.

“After several weeks of back and forth with the district, we learned that the college had created a transgender and gender nonconforming support plan with our 13-year-old daughter without our knowledge or consent,” Littlejohn said.

Most of the public testimony came from opponents of the bill, such as the Reverend Russell Meyer, who said sexuality was part of being human. “As a pastor in Tampa and Jacksonville, I can tell you that the homeless youth on our streets today across the state of Florida are people who have not been able to have open and safe conversations about the way they understood each other at school, and they definitely couldn’t have had them at home,” Meyer said.

Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, wondered if the bill could cause problems for students who have conversations with each other that the district may deem prohibited.

“I just feel that nuance, that we consider it a dirty topic or a dirty word, and I hope that’s not the intention,” Eskamani said. “We can’t legislate language that specifically calls out sexual orientation and gender identity and not think that makes it sound like we don’t value people who have a different gender identity or sexual orientation. yours.”

The legislation is likely to undergo some changes after several speakers asked for clarification on what the bill will do.

Rep. Vance Aloupis, Jr., R-Miami, said he supports the parental rights portion of the bill, but has concerns. “If you listen to the debate of this committee and the speakers today,” Aloupis said, “there is significant confusion in terms of individual interpretation of this bill and what the impact will be.”

Concluding the discussion, committee chair Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater, said parents should know what’s going on at school.

“This bill is designed for parents to make decisions about what is best to say to children aged 6-10, and so it’s important to remember that. It should be up to parents, not teachers. “, said Latvala, “and here we will always be on the side of the parents.

The bill has been approved and is going through the House Judiciary Committee.