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DeSantis on 'parental rights' bill: Schools should not 'be a playground for ideological disputes'

The governor says his goal is to ensure students in Florida are educated on topics like reading, math and science.

FORT MEADE, Fla. — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis indicated support for some of the general ideas about parental rights inside pieces of controversial legislation that critics have dubbed the "don't say gay" bills. Supporters of the proposed laws, which are making their way through the Florida Legislature, argue they will help ensure conversations with children are age-appropriate.

SB 1834 "Parental Rights in Education" passed its latest vote in the Florida Senate's Education Committee with six yeas and three nays. The House version of the bill, HB 1557, also is under consideration.

The bills, in part, would prohibit a school district from encouraging discussions about sexual orientation or gender identity in the classroom at primary grade levels or in a manner that isn't age and developmentally-appropriate for kids.

"At the end of the day, you know, my goal is to educate kids on the subjects —math, reading, science — all the things that are so important," DeSantis said Tuesday. "I don’t want the schools to kind of be a playground for ideological disputes or to try to inject."

Those who oppose the legislation fear it would marginalize the LGBTQ community.

Jennifer Soloman, who lives in South Florida and has LGBTQ children, expressed concern to NBC News about the impact this could have.

“Parental rights? Whose parental rights? Only parental rights if you’re raising a child according to DeSantis?" Soloman told NBC. "DeSantis tries to paint this picture that every family is this 1950s mom and dad with two kids and a cat and dog. That is not what Florida looks like; that is not what the country looks like.”

Under the bills, district school boards would be required to do the following: 

  • Adopt procedures that notify a student's parents of specified information.
  • Reinforce the fundamental rights of parents to make decisions about their child's upbringing. 
  • Prevent personnel from withholding specified information from parents.

"My purpose with this is to give, really, some relief to the school staff that they're not responsible for every issue in every person's life," said Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley (R), who sponsored the Senate version of the bill.

It's a sentiment that falls in line with the thoughts DeSantis shared.

“I think that what you’ve seen – there’s been reports in Florida and parts of the country — is schools keeping parents out of these decisions," said DeSantis, adding he doesn’t see how that can be done. 

But, critics of the proposed law worry there will be consequences for kids.

CBS affiliate WPEC reports Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, an Orlando Democratic lawmaker who is gay, described the legislation as sending a “dangerous message” that implies LGBTQ-related conversations shouldn't be happening in schools.

“It’s going to have, really, a chilling effect on the ability of school districts to continue with LGBTQ-inclusive policies that create positive educational environments for our youth,” Smith reportedly said during a news conference.

While Gov. DeSantis said he hasn't read through the bill himself, he maintains that he believes the legislature is trying to point out that things being discussed in schools should be age-appropriate. DeSantis said he also believes parents should be involved in the topic of gender ideology. 

“Yes, unfortunately in our society, not every parent does a great job but to keep parents out and to keep them in the dark I don’t think that that’s something, you know that works very well," he added.

Overall, DeSantis indicated he thinks the focus needs to be kept on matters of education like improving elementary-level reading and getting high school students prepared for their future. 

“If folks are focusing on that then I think we’ll be alright," DeSantis said.

If passed, the bill would become law on July 1, 2022. If that happens, it would allow parents to sue over violations.

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