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STOP SB582/HB241 the Unsafe School or so-called "Parental Rights" Bill

SB582/HB241 the Unsafe Schools (aka “Parents Rights”) Bill is model legislation from ultra-conservative groups that presents a false dichotomy of the state's rights vs. parents' rights when it comes to youth. Passage of such legislation will dissuade or prohibit some minors from receiving the services they need, including preventative care, wellness exams, mental health care, and reproductive health care.

CURRENT STATUS: On agenda for first committee stop at Senate Judiciary

SB582/HB241 the Unsafe Schools (aka “Parents Rights”) Bill is model legislation from ultra-conservative groups that presents a false dichotomy of the state's rights vs. parents' rights when it comes to youth. This overbroad bill disrupts the careful balance between parents’ rights and students’ constitutional rights within the Florida public school system. In particular, the bill presents problems for LGBTQ+ students who are already at risk of bullying and discrimination inside and outside of school by giving power and control to anti-LGBTQ+ and white supremacy parents, and parent groups, that are working to remove hard won LGBTQ+ “safe school” protections and inclusion policies.

Four of the greatest concerns are:

1) The bill would require teachers and guidance counselors to make information given in confidence by a trusting student available to their parents. This includes outing a student’s sexual orientation or gender identity. This practice potentially subjects students to harm by a hostile or unaccepting parent and may cause students to distrust adults in the system who are trained to listen and guide them through difficult identity related issues;

2) The bill makes accessing healthcare and mental health counseling more difficult for LGBTQ+ youth;

3) The bill disrupts LGBTQ+ inclusive sex education and sexually transmitted infection (STI) screening potentially causing long term health consequences to vulnerable students; and

4) The bill allows anti-LGBTQ+ parents and/or parent groups to restrict and potentially control school curriculum including literature, history, science, and humanities lessons that are currently LGBTQ+, black, brown, indigenous and immigrant inclusive and reflect current educational standards. In particular, parts of this bill would slow down education processes and create extraordinary cost to teachers and schools through a new definition of “instructional materials” and additional fines and fees and school board requirements for violations. This additional language would most certainly impede current inclusive education practices and chill the speech of inclusive education that give students an ability to “see themselves” reflected in their educational material.

All of these concerns add up to a single concern about increasing school safety and decreasing discrimination for LGBTQ+ and other minority youth populations. Current statistics show that LGBTQ+, especially transgender and non-binary (TGNB), students are at increased risk for bullying, physical assault, and discrimination. According to the Human Rights Committee 2019 report: 1) 42% of LGBTQ+ youth say they already live in a community that is not accepting of LGBTQ people, 2) LGBTQ+ youth are twice as likely as their peers to have been physically assaulted, kicked or shoved by their peers, 3) 26% of LGBTQ+ youth say their biggest problem is not feeling accepted by their family, and 4) 68% of LGBTQ+ youth say they hear negative messages about being LGBTQ+ from elected leaders.

Hostile school climates have been proven to affect student’s academic success and mental health outcomes. LGBTQ+ students who experience victimization and discrimination at school have worse educational outcomes and poorer psychological well-being. Grade point averages for these students were between 9% and 15% lower than for others. Students with LGBTQ+ related resources and support, on the other hand, report better school experiences and academic success. LGBTQ+ students in schools with an LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum were less likely to feel unsafe. In fact, student testimony shows 25% of queer identified youth feel safer in schools with inclusive LGBTQ+ curriculum.

We are particularly concerned with what the bill will do to create a hostile atmosphere for vulnerable TGNB youth. TGNB youth already face grave challenges at home, in school, in foster care, and in juvenile justice systems. A national survey by GLSEN has found that 75% of transgender youth feel unsafe at school, and those who are able to persevere had significantly lower GPAS, and were more likely to miss school out of concern for their own safety and to avoid bullying, hate violence, and discrimination. They were also less likely to plan on continuing education despite intelligence levels or significant achievement in certain scholarly areas due to lack of safety and acceptance in the school setting. In fact, 30% of TGNB students reported missing at least one day of school in the past month due to feeling unsafe.

The US Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) 2019 study states 1 in 50 U.S. high school students consider themselves transgender, and more than a third of those say they attempted suicide in the previous year (5). According to the July 2019 US Census Bureau there are 4,274,070 youth under the age of 18 in Florida. With a 1 in 50 rate this means that approximately 85,481 transgender youth in Florida would be negatively affected by the bill’s provisions. The CDC recommends “taking steps to create safe learning environments and provide access to culturally competent physical and mental health care for improving the health of transgender youths” as well as “continued research into the health of transgender youths and development of effective intervention strategies”. SB1634 does the opposite of protecting these vulnerable children, rather it decreases safety in school and increases social and educational mechanisms of oppression and stigma.

Finally, at a time when access to safe spaces, mental and physical healthcare, sex education, and inclusive curriculum for LGBTQ+ youth are much needed because of previous federal attacks on LGBTQ+ and TGNB youth protections by the Trump administration, this bill limits equal access for vulnerable queer youth populations. The marketplace of ideas within the education community has expanded resources for LGBTQ+ children for over 40 years. This bill attempts to ban these “best practices” in schools and enables hostile and unaccepting parents and/or anti-LGBTQ+ parents’ groups to promote hate and discrimination against vulnerable queer youth populations.

Parents already have rights, many of which are included in this bill. The additional rights and penalties laid out in this bill will only spread hate and violence and force teachers and guidance counselors to police LGBTQ+ students. Help protect vulnerable LGBTQ+ and minority children. Stop this bill.

Sign Up to Help and join the team to help protect LGBTQIA+ and Minority Youth in Florida. Stop the Unsafe Schools Bill.