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Legal expert advises schools to seek legal counsel and discuss 'HB 1557' with teachers

If signed by the governor, 'HB 1557' or the 'Parental Rights in Education' bill, dubbed by critics the 'Don't Say Gay' bill, would be in effect next school year.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The 'Parental Rights in Education' bill has passed its final hurdle, the Senate. It now heads to Governor DeSantis to be signed.

If signed, the bill critics have dubbed the 'Don't Say Gay' bill, would change what schools can teach your kids. 

The bill bans classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity, in kindergarten through third grade, or beyond if it isn't considered "age appropriate."

It also gives parents the right to pursue legal options against schools and school districts if they feel the policy is being violated.

From classrooms to courtrooms, the state's largest educator union, The Florida Education Association, says it prepared to stand by Florida teachers.

"We are going to have the backs of teachers who are caring for kids," FEA President Andrew Spar said. "We obviously will give guidance to teachers and our schools, but we will actively defend any teacher against accusations that they have done something wrong."

Also expressing support for teachers is the Tampa Bay LGBT Chamber.

Tampa Bay LGBT Chamber President and CEO Justice Gennari said, "To the teachers out there, we hear you. We are here to support you, you are not alone in this."

Both groups are concerned about how the legislation will make schools susceptible to lawsuits.

"Unfortunately this bill was drafted in a way that is so loosely worded and has so many loopholes in ways that it can be perceived, that it does allow this door to be opened for lawsuits against our teachers and our school boards across the state," Gennari said.

To avoid liability, Florida Gulf Coast University law professor Pamella Seay suggests school districts seek legal counsel.

"As schools should give their teachers instruction on how to deal with this, that has to be the number one means of protecting the schools," Seay said. "If they have meetings with their faculty and say 'look, this is what we have to do,' then they will be in better footing to defend themselves later on."

Seay says lawsuits are likely to emerge as a result of this bill passing, particularly because attorney fees could be awarded.

"If there's a statute that says 'if you bring this type of lawsuit you will automatically be paid,' then there's an encouragement for that kind of lawsuit to occur," Seay said. 

The bill passed on Tuesday by a margin of 22 to 17. 

One of the few Republicans to vote against the legislation was Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes, who represents St. Petersburg. 

Brandes says he voted against the bill because the Senate wouldn't accept his amendment which covered all things regarding sexual activity. He says, as written, the bill misses its mark. 

"We have no examples of this policy being used in Florida that we needed the bill for, so this may completely be a solution in search of a problem," Brandes said. 

The bill's sponsors call its passage a win for parents, saying it will allow them more control over what their kids are taught. 

Senate Sponsor Dennis Baxley addressed the Senate on Tuesday and said, "There's some tough wrong roads, and that's why we're so cautious about who our kids are with and what they're doing and what they're talking about and what they're learning."

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