DeSantis spox pushes back following accusations in lawsuit over Florida parental rights law

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Christina Pushaw, press secretary for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, had plenty to say after a new lawsuit over the state’s Parental Rights in Education law accused her of making comments that led to bullying in schools.

The new law prohibits teachers and other school personnel from discussing sex or gender identity issues with students in kindergarten through third grade, and it requires discussion in older grades to be age-appropriate. The complaint states that one of the plaintiffs who is a current high school student feels that bullying against LGBTQ students has escalated in his school due to Pushaw calling the legislation an “anti-grooming bill” and claiming that its opponents support grooming young children.

“Opponents of the Parental Rights in Education law, by definition, support adults talking to young children about sexuality and gender ideology while keeping these conversations secret from those kids’ parents,” Pushaw said in a statement to Fox News. “I cannot think of a more politically correct word for an adult who advocates for instructing young children about sexuality and gender theory while concealing that from the child’s parents. If there is a polite word for such behavior, I’d use it instead.”

The lawsuit, filed in federal court against school boards in Orange, Duval, Indian River, and Palm Beach counties, was brought by a couple with four children in Orange County public schools included one who identifies as non-binary and two in grades 1 and 3, respectively; an Orange County high school student; a gay couple with two children in Indian River County public school; and Centerlink, Inc., a not-for-profit group that has LGBTQ community centers in Orange, Duval, and Palm Beach counties. They claim that the language of the law is vague and overly broad, which has allegedly resulted in schools taking excessive measures that they believe is harmful to students.

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“Defendant school boards and their agents have already begun implementing significant changes under the law. They have instructed teachers to review hundreds of books that acknowledge LGBTQ+ people and families and have eliminated vital support systems for LGBTQ+ students, including guidance and training that combat bullying and violence,” the complaint says.

Fox News reached out to all four school boards for their reactions to the lawsuit. The Orange County board said they would not comment on pending litigation, while the others did not provide responses.

The bill says that “[c]lassroom 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.”

The complaint states that the statute poses problems by not clearly defining key terms such as “classroom instruction,” “sexual orientation,” “gender identity,” “school personnel,” “third party,” “age-appropriate,” “developmentally appropriate,” or “standards.” 

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“Whether a teacher can answer a student’s question about another student’s family structure without running afoul of the law is unclear,” the complaint states. “The law is vague, leaving school districts to decide whether or not teachers and classroom visitors, such as parents, must refrain from answering students’ questions on the forbidden topics— to the extent those can even be ascertained. Similarly, it is unclear whether a teacher must censor students from discussing their own sexual orientation or gender identity, or that of their LGBTQ+ parents, family members, or friends, and whether or not to discipline those students who do.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' office blasted a piece the Los Angeles Times’ editorial board for a piece about a new state law that is "rife with erroneous assumptions," according to the governor’s press secretary. 

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office blasted a piece the Los Angeles Times’ editorial board for a piece about a new state law that is "rife with erroneous assumptions," according to the governor’s press secretary.  (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The complaint also argues that by not defining “classroom instruction,” the law has “caused Defendant school districts in at least Orange County and Palm Beach County to remove LGBTQ+ materials from their libraries.”

Additionally, the lawsuit raises the plaintiffs’ concerns regarding how the law is enforced. 30 days after notifying the school district of their concerns, if the matter is not resolved parents can either request a special magistrate to investigate claims, and another allows them to sue for injunctive relief.

The lawsuit notes that the school districts would have to pay for the special magistrate process, or in the case of a successful lawsuit, pay the plaintiffs’ attorney’s fees, court costs, and possibly a monetary award.

“HB 1557’s enforcement scheme poses little risk for parents who desire to litigate against their child’s school district, and it incentivizes school districts to bend to any single parent’s demands rather than to prioritize student safety and education,” the complaint says. 

The lawsuit asserts that this is the result of officials’ intent to cause problems for the LGBTQ community.

“This vigilante enforcement mechanism, combined with the law’s intentionally vague and sweeping scope, invites parents who oppose any acknowledgment whatsoever of the existence of LGBTQ+ people to sue, resulting in schools acting aggressively to silence students, parents, and school personnel,” it says. “The law, by design, chills speech and expression that have any connection, however remote, to sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Pushaw pushed back against the idea that the law has anything to do with discriminating against the LGBTQ community or anyone else.

“The law says nothing about LGBTQ or any other identity – it is about protecting children and defending parental rights,” she said. “Floridians don’t want their kids to be exposed to subjects like gender transitioning in school, which should be a place for learning basic skills like reading, writing, and math.”

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Gov. DeSantis had a similar message when he signed the bill into law. 

“Parents have every right to be informed about services offered to their child at school, and should be protected from schools using classroom instruction to sexualize their kids as young as 5 years old,” he said.