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Shakespeare gets caught in Florida's sexual instruction laws

Victoria Crosdale
WUSF Public Media

Students in Hillsborough County Public Schools will be reading only excerpts from William Shakespeare’s plays for class rather than the full texts under redesigned curriculum guides developed, in part, to take into consideration the state's sexual instruction laws.

The changes to the curriculum guides were made with Florida’s new laws prohibiting classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in mind. Other reasons included revised state standards and an effort to get students to read a wide variety of books for new state exams, the school district said in an emailed statement on Tuesday.

Several Shakespeare plays use suggestive puns and innuendo, and it is implied that the protagonists have had premarital sex in Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare's books will be available for checkout at media centers at schools, the district said.

“First and foremost, we have not excluded Shakespeare from our high school curriculum. Students will still have the physical books to read excerpts in class,” the statement said. “Curriculum guides are continually reviewed and refined throughout the year to align with state standards and current law.”

READ MORE: Expanded 'Don't Say Gay' law remains contentious as new school year begins

The decision in Hillsborough is the latest fallout from laws passed by Florida's Republican-controlled Legislature and championed by GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis over the past two years.

In Lake County, outside Orlando, the school district reversed a decision, made in response to the legislation, to restrict access to a popular children's book about a male penguin couple hatching a chick. The School Board of Lake County and Florida education officials last week asked a federal judge to toss out a First Amendment lawsuit that students and the authors of “And Tango Makes Three” filed in June. Their complaint challenged the restrictions and Florida's new laws.

The lawsuit is moot because age restrictions on And Tango Makes Three were lifted following a Florida Department of Education memo that said the new law applied only to classroom instruction and not school libraries, according to motions filed Friday by Florida education officials and school board members.

And Tango Makes Three recounts the true story of two male penguins who were devoted to each other at the Central Park Zoo in New York. A zookeeper who saw them building a nest and trying to incubate an egg-shaped rock gave them an egg from a different penguin pair with two eggs after they were having difficulty hatching more than one egg at a time. The chick cared for by the male penguins was named Tango.

The book is listed among the 100 most subjected to censorship efforts over the past decade, as compiled by the American Library Association.

The Parental Rights in Education law, which critics refer to as “Don't Say Gay,” has been at the center of a fight between Disney and DeSantis, who is running to be the 2024 GOP presidential nominee and has made the culture wars a driving force of his campaign. DeSantis and Republican lawmakers took over control of the district after Disney publicly opposed the legislation.

The College Board has refused to alter its Advanced Placement psychology course to comply with Florida's new laws, even though it includes content on gender and sexual orientation. The College Board said last week that it hoped Florida teachers would be able to teach the full course.

With students preparing to return to school this week in many school districts, it remained unclear whether any modifications to the course would be expected to comply with Florida’s rules.
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