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The New Laws and Policies That Will Affect Florida Classrooms

For the past year, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has signed bills that directly affect students and teachers alike. Since July 1, 2023, numerous controversial bills contemplated how principals and teachers can impose discipline, the use of diversified pronouns, and regulations on bathroom access have been passed, influencing the experiences that students, teachers, and school staff go through.

Bill #1035
Starting with Florida’s House of Representatives Bill #1035, a recently passed bill creates new programs, such as the Teacher Apprenticeship Program. This program would provide future teachers with a five-year temporary certificate that would enable them to obtain experience instructing in classrooms. The law also establishes the “Heroes in the classroom” program; giving firefighters and paramedics a chance to join the faculty by waiving their certification fees. This legislation also requires the Commissioner of Education to conduct a comprehensive review of all federal, state, and local training requirements, and discard unneeded requisites. Additionally, superintendents’ salaries can be put on hold if the State Board of Education finds out that a school district is violating the law.

Furthermore, the law gives teachers the “right to control the classroom”, which allows teachers to establish their own rules regarding conduct and behavior for students within their class, and implement consequences of their choosing if classroom rules are infringed. This also gives them the power to send disrespectful and violent students to school staff who will assist the student in correcting their behavior. It also requires teachers and principals to confirm a student has violated their code of conduct before imposing consequences.

This law also allows any school staff member who violates Florida law by using excessive force to receive a rebuttable presumption on the name that their actions were “necessary to restore or maintain safety,” and receive legal services to defend their case.

Bill #1521
Known as the “Safety in Private Spaces Act”, this law mainly focuses on restrooms and other intimate rooms where only people of a certain biological gender can enter. It gives anyone the power to report any person of the opposite gender who enters an intimate room. This includes changing rooms, locker rooms, restrooms, and other places where someone may get undressed.

“It’s a brand new level of fear and intimidation that ultimately has one goal, and that is to root transgender people out of the Florida [Education] System”, said former Florida state representative Carlos Guillermo Smith in an interview with The Hill. “It is death by a million cuts, where you just created such a toxic and hostile environment for trans people in our state that they no longer are going to want to call Florida home,” Smith added. “They’re just going to leave.”

However, this law also specifies the scenarios where someone from the opposite gender may enter these rooms lawfully. The law authorizes anyone to enter an empty opposite-gender restroom if the one assigned to their gender is under maintenance. Plus, it defends
maintenance workers who must enter intimate rooms not intended for them to keep the facilities in good condition. Moreover, it gives permission to law enforcement officials, paramedics, and other authority figures to forcefully enter intimate rooms not designated for
them in case of an emergency.

The consequences of entering an intimate room of the opposite gender may vary. Schools must establish the disciplinary actions they may take if a student wilfully enters a room not intended for their gender. Business owners have the right to request someone to leave an opposite-sex restroom. If the person in question refuses to leave, they can be charged with a trespassing offense and a fine of up to $10,000.

Bill #379
Bill #379 requires public schools to provide guidance and advice on the effects of social media to students participating in grades 6th to 12th. This law also requires that school boards impose an internet policy that restricts access to social media platforms, including TikTok. The law also prohibits schools from using TikTok to promote their activities and give out announcements to their community.

This law also restricts the use of cell phones and other electronic devices during instructional times, unless specified by a teacher. Teachers are required to designate a specific area for students to use their wireless devices when given permission.

Bill #1069
This bill forbids gender identity and sexual orientation from being taught from Kindergarten up to 8th grade. Formerly, this restriction applied to Kindergarten up to 3rd grade. All material required for the instruction of these topics, including health and reproductive education, must be reviewed by the Department of Education before being used in classrooms. Also, parents are given the power to present an objection to materials, which is to be resolved into committees that must be open to the public. It also calls for the suspension of materials alleged to contain pornographic or obscene depictions of sexual conduct.

“I understand the means to restrict reproductive education [to elementary school students], but trying to restrict a middle schooler from finding out any information they are not supposed to know, doesn’t stop them from doing it.” Said Lesly Bacallao, a current student at Terra
Environmental Research Institute. “If anything, they should be taught by parents, regardless of their view on reproduction, sexual orientation, and gender identity; so parents can explain it in a way they want and can decide what they want their children to know or not. ” Lesly added. Furthermore, the law prohibits schools from imposing or enforcing requirements for individuals to be referred to with pronouns not corresponding with their biological sex, alongside forbidding students, teachers, and school staff from sharing their preferred pronouns. The only extraordinary exception to this regulation applies to individuals born with a genetic disorder of
gender development.

While each of these laws has different focuses, they have an impact on the education sector. It’s important to highlight that all of these laws took effect on July 1, 2023, which means that Florida schools and educators are presently expected to comply with them.

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