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Florida teachers race to remake lessons as DeSantis laws take effect

The first day of school in Florida is less than two weeks away, but officials are still plagued by confusion and uncertainty about what a raft of new laws championed by Gov. Ron DeSantis will mean. The measures have parents, teachers, and students scrambling to figure out how to follow them and keep from being targeted by Floridians newly empowered to sue school boards. Florida’s culture war is being waged primarily in schools, with schools being told to ignore guidance from the Biden administration that says federal law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in schools. In Palm Beach County, one teacher changed her plans for a lesson about Sally Ride to omit the fact that she was a lesbian because she didn't know how to explain that without running afoul of the new laws.

A recent survey by the American Federation of Teachers found that nearly 80 percent of teachers are dissatisfied with their job. Florida's new laws have made the profession less attractive for experienced teachers and new college graduates alike. Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz declined a request for an interview, but his office said the department has provided guidance to schools districts on how to follow the new laws. The state Department of Education has yet to define what “developmentally appropriate” means in the context of the new law. In defending a lawsuit in federal court filed against the state, Florida attorneys said teachers may still discuss such issues with students in early grades. The law prohibits classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity for the youngest children, neutrally allowing all parents, no matter their views.

A long-standing rule allows parents to opt out of having their children take sex ed classes. Opponents said showing the book to students would be “illegal in the state of Florida” Health professionals say public opinion surveys show significant support for sexual education. Florida has the third-highest rate of new HIV infections in the country according to the CDC.