Florida parents sue over sex education bill, alleging First Amendment violations

A group of Florida parents has filed a lawsuit against the DeSantis administration’s Board of Education, alleging a law that will go into effect in July violates their First Amendment rights.

Dubbed by its critics as the "Don't Say Period" bill, House Bill 1069 redefines "sex" as a classification based on biological characteristics. This will prohibit educators from referring to students using their preferred pronouns unless they match the students' biological sex.  

This bill also bans the instruction of menstrual cycles before the sixth grade and mandates that sex education emphasizes abstinence outside of marriage and the benefits of monogamous heterosexual marriage. 

The bill is also an expansion of the 2022 Parental Rights in Education Act (HB 1557), commonly referred to as the "Don't Say Gay" law, in that it restricts instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity until eighth grade. 

School libraries will also adopt a new system allowing parents to object to inappropriate educational materials, which is the core of the lawsuit.

Stephana Ferrell, a parent and one of the plaintiffs, requested a review of her child's school district’s decision to remove a book but said she was denied. 

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The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, contends that HB 1069 discriminates against parents who oppose book bans and censorship. The law provides a formal process for parents favoring censorship to challenge a school board’s decision to keep a book while excluding parents who oppose censorship from participating in the process. 

The plaintiffs seek the ability to review local school boards' decisions to remove or restrict books in their children's school districts.

"This law is an attempt to steal important decisions away from parents and allows those with a strong desire to withhold critical information on a variety of age-relevant topics to decide what books our kids have access to," said Ferrell. "The State of Florida should not be able to discriminate against the voices of parents they disagree with. I deserve an equal voice in my child’s education as any other parent."

The parents are represented by the national legal advocacy group Democracy Forward, the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, and the Southern Poverty Law Center.