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Amendment to Florida 'parental rights' bill could lead to outing of LGBTQ students, critics say

The GOP-backed amendment would require information shared between a student and school personnel to be provided to parents, even if it may harm the student.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — An amendment to the House version of Florida's "Parental Rights in Education" legislation, which critics have called the "don't say gay" bill, would require the disclosure of certain student information to a parent after a period of time.

Opponents contend this could equate to the forced outing of a child to family members who may not be supportive of their sexual identity. They fear this could put the child at risk of abuse.

House Bill 1557, as it's written, bars school personnel from discouraging or prohibiting the notification of parents or parental involvement in critical decisions affecting a student's mental, emotional or physical health or well-being. Such information, however, could be withheld from a student's parents "if a reasonably prudent person would believe that disclosure would result in abuse, abandonment, or neglect."

But the amendment filed last week by one of the bill's sponsors, Republican State Rep. Joe Harding, places a six-week time limit until when information learned by school officials from a student would need to be disclosed to a parent.

It mandates that school personnel "shall develop a plan...to disclose such information within 6 weeks after the decision to withhold such information from the parent.

"The plan must facilitate disclosure between the student and parent through an open dialogue in a safe, supportive, and judgment-free environment that respects the parent-child relationship and protects the mental, emotional, and physical well-being of the student."

10 Tampa Bay has reached out to Harding on his proposed amendment but has not yet heard back.

Democratic State Rep. Carlos Smith, the first openly LGBTQ Latino member of the Florida Legislature, tweeted this amendment "will have devastating consequences for our youth," calling it a "state-mandated outing of LGBTQ students to parents."

A Democratic colleague and State Rep. Anna Eskamani added, "Just when we thought it couldn't get WORSE."

Eskamani filed her own amendment aimed at protecting LGBTQ students, allowing them to sue the Florida Department of Education if their "school reveals their sexual orientation to the student's parent or guardian" and "causes irreparable harm."

Proponents of the "Parental Rights in Education" legislation, which would bar classroom instruction about sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, argue it's not age-appropriate conversation for younger students.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has previously said "I don’t want the schools to kind of be a playground for ideological disputes or to try to inject." 

Delaney Ocock, a senior at Olympia High School in Orlando, told CBS News that the legislation is an "unnecessary" barrier to LGBTQ students, such as herself. She came out as lesbian at age 11 and had support from her seventh-grade English teacher.

"The bill is sending a message to LGBTQ youth that they have something to be ashamed about, that their identities are so taboo that they shouldn't even be talked about in classrooms," Ocock told CBS News. "In a world that already shames LGBTQ people enough, children who are learning and developing who they are don't need any more of that stigma."   

The House version of the legislation bans discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity from kindergarten through third grade while the Senate version only specifies students in primary school.

The bill is slated to go before the full House for a vote this week.

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