Florida's new Parental Rights in Education law has garnered immediate notoriety or popularity, depending on your political point of view. Everyone has been understandably focused on the section of the bill which deals with teaching human sexuality to 5-7 year-olds, but there is quite a lot more to the bill than that.
The law addresses nine specific policies that the Florida legislature believes school districts have been using to keep parents out of the loop on the personal health services and instruction being provided to students. Let's take a quick look at some of them:
"[A school district] must adopt procedures for notifying a student's parent if there is a change in the student's services or monitoring related to the student's mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being and the school's ability to provide a safe and supportive learning environment for the student."
Being government-run, it's important to think of public schools as being like any other government bureaucracy, no different than a Department of Motor Vehicles or a Bureau of Taxation. The people who work in government-run schools have no legal obligation to the individual children under their care. Their obligation is to their employer, the government. Of course we hope that public employees feel personally invested in their work, but that is not what they are paid to do.
The people who have the actual, legal responsibility for the upbringing of children are the parents and guardians. Government-run schools are a proxy for parents and guardians. As their scope is limited, so too should their authority be limited.
Clearly, the Florida legislature is very concerned that school districts have stepped outside the bounds of their authority. A district could be providing one set of personal health services and instruction that they tell parents about at the beginning of the year, and then change them later, without parents ever being the wiser.
This addition to the Florida Statutes to outlaw any hidden switch in policies certainly seems like a reasonable one to me. If you worked as a clerk in a store, for example, you wouldn't dream of changing prices without first clearing it with your supervisor. The same principle applies here.
"The procedures must reinforce the fundamental right of parents to make decisions regarding the upbringing and control of their children by requiring school district personnel to encourage a student to discuss issues relating to his or her well-being with his or her parent or to facilitate discussion of the issue with the parent."
Notifications, to be real, can't be merely pro-forma, delivered after the fact. The notifications must direct students to discuss their personal health needs with the only people who are legally responsible for filling them.
But what if a student asks a school employee a personal health question, such as "should I get cosmetic surgery"? The answer in all such cases must be, "Ask your parents or guardian." A government-run school has absolutely no business providing any personal health services or instruction in my opinion. They should limit themselves to providing first aid.
That may sound shocking, but hear me out. A government-run school is not set up to deal with the personal health care needs of individual children. There are no standards for this medical care and advice. No standards of medical training. No monitoring. No follow up. No legal liability. There is no reason whatsoever that it should be part of the school's mission at all. We have home instruction and medical professionals for these needs.
"The procedures may not prohibit parents from accessing any of their student's education and health records created, maintained, or used by the school district ... [But this] does not prohibit a school district from adopting procedures that permit school personnel to withhold such information from a parent if a reasonably prudent person would believe that disclosure would result in abuse, abandonment, or neglect, as those terms are defined in s. 39.01."
The Florida legislature is concerned that some of its school districts are forbidding parents from seeing their own children's school records as a matter of routine. That this is even possible was a surprise to me. In my state of Virginia, our Code states right up front in its Definitions section that "A parent has a fundamental right to make decisions concerning the upbringing, education, and care of the parent's child." If a Virginia public school were to hold student health information in secret from parents as a matter of routine, that would certainly be fairly solid grounds for a very expensive lawsuit.
But there is an important exception when there is a reasonable threat that revealing the information in a specific case would result in abuse, abandonment, or neglect of a child. That certainly seems reasonable, as long as the exceptions are granted in genuinely exceptional circumstances, and not across the board to everyone.
"Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards."
This is the section that everyone talks about, but I think this is the least problematic part of the new law. I'm completely with Democrat Tulsi Gabbard on this one: I'm shocked that the Florida law against teaching sexuality only applies to grades K-3. It should apply right up through grade 12.
The business of government-run schools is to teach academics. Government-run schools are performing very poorly right now, the US places near the bottom on virtually every measure of literacy. Maybe part of the reason why is because schools are wasting their time and money on these other topics instead of academics.
"Student support services training developed or provided by a school district to school district personnel must adhere to student services guidelines, standards, and frameworks established by the Department of Education."
It may come as a surprise to some, but there is an entire sub-industry devoted to pushing sexual instruction and sexual health services into the classroom. Organizations like AMAZE, for example, develop cartoon sex videos aimed at very young children, proudly touting their work as "Taking the awkward out of sex ed!" AMAZE is a project of Advocates for Youth, a non-profit that believes that "Children have the inalienable right to honest sexual health information and confidential, consensual sexual health services." And who funds Advocates for Youth? The Centers for Disease Control. Yes, not only do they push sexual advocacy on your children, they make you, the American taxpayer, foot the bill.
With so much pushing of this agenda from the outside, it is no wonder that the Florida legislature added this requirement that school districts can't just adopt these materials on their own, they must follow the Department of Education. That certainly seems advisable given the advocacy.
"At the beginning of the school year, each school district shall notify parents of each healthcare service offered at their student's school and the option to withhold consent or decline any specific service ... Before administering a student well-being questionnaire or health screening form to a student in kindergarten through grade 3, the school district must provide the questionnaire or health screening form to the parent and obtain the permission of the parent."
As I've previously expressed, it would be better to not even provide these services. But if they are going to do so, it seems that at very least they need to be opt-in. It would make no sense that going on a class trip would require legal consent by parents, but sexual medical advice and services would not. Clearly, that should not be possible.
Here is the full text of the bill, as published by the Florida Senate: https://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2022/1557/BillText/er/PDF.