Miami teachers intend to help students feel safe under “Don’t Say Gay”

Teachers in Miami-Dade County Public Schools — the largest school district in Florida — are about to start their first school year under the Parental Rights in Education law. Some say they are concerned about navigating the law’s restrictions and about the harm it might cause LGBTQ+ students.

Karla Hernández-Mats, president of United Teachers of Dade, believes the law will accelerate Florida’s teacher shortage. Hernández-Mats said the union is encouraging teachers to continue making students feel welcome — and to report any specific workplace mandates to their representatives. 

“We encourage teachers to not change anything about who they are and what they represent, and their families,” she said.

via Axios

The law prohibits classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade — as well as instruction that is not “age appropriate” for older students. It also requires schools to notify parents if a student is receiving services for mental, emotional or physical health issues — and allows parents to sue school districts over alleged violations. Critics say the law could stifle conversations about LGBTQ+ issues because it doesn’t specify what would be considered inappropriate in higher grades.

Francisco Sanchez, a history teacher at Miami Coral Park Senior High who is gay, tells Axios he wants to make sure LGBTQ+ students feel safe coming to school and that they have resources if they feel marginalized. “Any kid in my school will know this is a safe classroom, and if you’re having issues there are people in this school that will help you out,” says Sanchez, who also runs the Gay Straight Alliance Club at his school. “And we will protect you.”

LGBTQ+ advocacy group Safe Schools South Florida has hosted webinars ahead of the school year to help Florida teachers navigate potential restrictions. The organization’s executive director, Scott Galvin, who is a North Miami City Council member and a gay man, tells Axios that teachers are scared about being sued for unknowingly violating the law. His group, of which Morales and Sanchez are board members, has instructed teachers to document any interactions or school policies they find concerning and go to their union attorney instead of confronting the school administration.