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Palm Beach County School Board asks judge to dismiss parental rights lawsuit

Marchers unfurl a rainbow flag at the Equality March for Unity and Pride in Washington, D.C., in June.
Carolyn Kaster
/
AP
Marchers unfurl a rainbow flag at the Equality March for Unity and Pride in Washington, D.C., in June.

The School District of Palm Beach County is asking a judge to throw out a lawsuit that’s thought to be one of the first cases brought under the state’s new parental rights laws.

Francisco Deliu of Wellington is suing the district, claiming two teachers displayed LGBTQ pride flags in his son’s middle school classrooms. Deliu alleges the school was “implicitly advocating for homosexuality”, which he claims violates his "Christian-Orthodox religious beliefs" and forced him to have his son removed from the classes.

Deliu is also challenging the district’s LGBTQ+ Critical Support Guide, which gives advice on how to support queer students and includes statistics on mental health trends and resources available in the community.

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In his legal filings, Deliu cited the Parents’ Bill of Rights, which state lawmakers passed in 2021 and which recognizes the ability of parents to direct the “education and care” and “moral or religious training” of their children.

In a zoom court hearing on Thursday, Sean Fahey, an attorney for the school board, asked Judge Richard Oftedal to dismiss Deliu's claims.

Fahey argued that the alleged actions don’t violate the family’s religious rights — and that school boards have broad authority under state law and “may exercise any power” that’s not prohibited by the State Constitution or general law.

“A parent's right to direct his child's religious or moral training is not infringed upon merely because a child is exposed to ideas at school that might be contrary to their religious values,” Fahey said.

“It would be virtually impossible for a public school system to have a curriculum and discussion in the classroom every day that was perfectly consistent with the moral or religious beliefs of every single student and their family,” he added.

Deliu, who is representing himself, argued the power of local school boards is overly broad, asking what would stop an educator from teaching about Satanism, if there’s not a law expressly banning it.

“If one thinks that through logically to its extreme, the government can do whatever it wants, unless there's a law that says they can't,” Deliu said. “It's difficult to imagine a more totalitarian mentality.”

There are limits on the authority of school boards — namely, regular democratic elections in which candidates must earn the support of the voting public.

And in recent years, school board members in Florida and across the country have experienced intense pressure from parents and activists, including from extremists like members of the far-right Proud Boys. Some local education officials have received death threats, amid heated discussions about how race, identity and history should be addressed in schools.

The case brought against the Palm Beach County school district could create a legal pathway for others to follow.

Nova Southeastern University law professor Bob Jarvis told the Palm Beach Post the case is the first he’s aware of that was brought under the state’s new parental rights laws and could represent the start of a wave of legal challenges.

Fahey pointed out that because the state laws are relatively new and untested, the parties need guidance from the courts.

“This court has to interpret what that law means in order to decide how this action is going to proceed,” Fahey said. “We still have to have an understanding of what that law allows and prohibits in order to know whether the plaintiff is ultimately going to prevail.”

Oftedal says he’s reviewing the arguments and will decide soon whether to allow the case to proceed.

Kate Payne is WLRN's education reporter