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A Florida school district now says LGBTQ teachers can put photos on their desk of their partners and talk about them in class as DeSantis' restrictions on teaching cause confusion

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Feb. 24, 2022, in Orlando, Fla.
Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida.
AP Photo/John Raoux, File

  • Florida's Parental Rights in Education Act, criticized as the "Don't Say Gay" law, took effect July 1.
  • School districts in the state are grappling with confusion and questions over the new law and what's permitted under it. 
  • One school district issued clarifying guidance that says it's OK for teachers to talk about their same-sex partners. 

A Florida school district is clarifying its rules around discussion of same-sex relationships as teachers are grappling with a new state law championed by Gov. Ron DeSantis which limits how teachers can talk about sexual orientation and gender identity in their classrooms.

Orange County Public Schools released a memo on Monday with guidance for teachers around topics like sexual orientation.

The memo said the law prohibits "instruction" on those topics from kindergarten through third grade, but doesn't ban teachers from talking about their partners. 

"'There is no merit, for example, to the suggestion that the statute restricts gay and transgender teachers from 'put[ting] a family photo on their desk' or 'refer[ring] to themselves and their spouse (and their own children),'" the memo says, referencing guidance issued by the state in a motion to dismiss filed in a lawsuit seeking to invalidate the law. 

The school district defines instruction as "the action, practice, or profession of teaching."

"The Bill restricts 'instruction' on sexual orientation and gender identity, not mere discussion of those subjects," the memo says.

Before the memo, Orange County Public Schools spokesperson Michael Ollendorff told The Washington Post on Saturday that the district "cautioned against" discussions that could be deemed "classroom instruction" on sexual orientation or gender identity. 

Ollendorff told Insider his responses were taken out of context, and provided the new memo as clarification. 

The memo also says while teachers cannot wear clothing or display items with specific political endorsements on them, things like lanyards that say "ally" and "safe space" stickers are allowed. 

Orange County isn't the only district grappling with confusion and questions over the new law. In Miami-Dade County, the school board is going back and forth on which textbooks are allowed in sex education, The Post reported. A teacher in Palm Beach County told The Post another instructor omitted a historical figure's sexual orientation from her lessons.

At a press conference on the new school year, Palm Beach County schools said their instruction meets the new guidelines, while also encouraging students to "think."

The new guidance is a result of the state's controversial Parental Rights in Education Act, which took effect on July 1 after being signed into law by DeSantis of Florida in March. Critics have dubbed the act the "Don't Say Gay" law.

The law explicitly bans the discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade and includes ambiguous language banning that discussion "in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate."

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