Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which would bar Florida educators from speaking to students about LBGTQ+ topics that are not considered “age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students” has passed in Florida’s House and is likely to pass in the Senate as it now moves to the Republican-controlled Senate floor for a vote. The horrific piece of legislation, formally known as HB 1557, has raised questions as to whether the bill, if passed, would violate the First Amendment rights of teachers or students in public primary schools across the sunshine state.
For almost a year, schools have been reacting to the unprecedented circumstances that Covid-19 has caused. Most of the mitigation efforts thus far have been at the direction of state and local governments. Only recently have federal agencies given clear and substantial guidance on how to get students back into the classroom. Schools have largely fallen into three categories — in-person, remote, or a blended model that involves students doing some classwork at home and some at school. Some schools moved to increase their in-person learning and some have had to retrace their steps when positivity rates were too high, either in the school or in the larger community.
An article published on November 19, 2019 by ProPublica Illinois and the Chicago Tribune has alerted Illinois lawmakers, parents, and school personnel of the widespread use of seclusion rooms for isolated timeouts. The use of these rooms, which has now been halted by the Illinois State Board of Education (“ISBE”) and Governor J.B. Pritzker, has been legal in Illinois for over twenty years. The students who are most frequently placed in these rooms have an emotional, behavioral, or intellectual disability, and special education advocates are calling for an end to this practice. These rooms were introduced as a legally-sanctioned separation method to prevent students from harming themselves or others, but the investigative article found that students are often unlawfully placed in these rooms for minor behavioral infractions. The report also found that parents and school administrators did not have knowledge of the full scope of isolated time-out use for their students.