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Equality Florida lawyers 'thrilled' with the Parental Rights lawsuit settlement

Daylina Miller
WUSF Public Media

LGBTQ+ advocates are "thrilled" with the settlement reached in a lawsuit over the Parental Rights in Education Act.

The law — which critics dubbed as "Don't Say Gay" — restricts how gender identity and sexual orientation are taught in Florida schools.

Both the state and LGBTQ+ advocates proclaimed victory.

Gov. Ron DeSantis' office released a press release after news of the settlement broke on March 11. It said "activists" — the plaintiffs in the case — tried to stop the "legislatively enacted will of the people."

"The media wrote countless stories lying about the intent, design, and application of the law. Their judicial activism has failed. Today's mutually agreed settlement ensures that the law will remain in effect," the release said.

But, Roberta Kaplan told The Florida Roundup the law was written so vaguely, it was difficult to make sense of what it actually said.

Her firm, Kaplan Hecker & Fink, represented Equality Florida and the other plaintiffs.

Kaplan said that lack of clarity in the law could prevent children from doing something as simple as talking about their families.

"It had the impact that we think its drafters wanted," she said. "And that impact was to sow fear, confusion and anxiety among kids, among parents, and among teachers."

Kaplan said the agreement will not stop Safe Space stickers from being hung inside schools or prevent students and teachers from talking about their families.

John Quinn, another lawyer for the plaintiffs, said they are "thrilled" with the distinction defined by the settlement.

"They're clear that instruction refers only to the formal act of teaching," he said. "So what we're talking about really are lesson plans and the curriculum."

"And very importantly, (it) commits the state to equality and to non-discriminatory treatment," Quinn added.

Kaplan said the settlement brings "clarity where there was confusion" and "security where there was fear."

"No one can say that a five year old who comes into school and wants to talk about his two mommies or his two dads is doing anything wrong," she said. "And that kid cannot be disciplined for that."

As part of the settlement, the state has agreed to send the official interpretation to all school districts.

But Kaplan said that might not stop some people from filing "frivolous" lawsuits. However, if someone does file a suit for something not covered by the interpretation, she added they will lose and be unable to recover attorney fees.

The settlement refers solely to the original piece of legislation and does not include the expansion passed a year later, which prohibited the use of gender affirming pronouns within the classroom.

That expansion extended the ban on classroom instruction to all grades from the bill's original kindergarten through grade 3 reach. Quinn said the settlement covers instruction in all grades.
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Meghan Bowman
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