Florida lawmakers want to clarify the rights parents have in schools. The Parents' Bill of Rights allows parents to object to school materials based on religion, morals, and more.
Parents can already allow their kids to opt-out of vaccines, health exams, and sex education. That's a touchy subject for Isabel Ruano. As a child, she battled Leukemia and relied on vaccinated kids to stay healthy.
"I was immunocompromised from aged 12 to 16. Being in an environment with unvaccinated kids would have put my life at risk," Ruano says.
Ruano is speaking against a bill that would bans the state from interfering with a parent's right to not vaccinate their kid. Currently, parents can opt-out for religious reasons.
"This bill is going to go a lot farther than what we have," says Sen. Lori Berman (D-Boynton Beach).
Right now, parents can object to any school materials if they can prove it has specific issues like it's biased, immoral, or unbalanced. Under the Parents' Bill of Rights—the name of the proposal moving through the legislature—parents would be allowed to object based on religion as well. However, school boards would have the final say.
"If you have a Holocaust denier—they could say I don't want my children to hear the Holocaust lesson," Berman says.
Berman says years of legislation has put specific lessons in school, like black history, but under the measure she worries those lessons could be skipped by children of parents who don't agree with the teaching.
"In addition to the Holocaust and one of those 16 items we have, the history of African Americans, including slavery, the study of Hispanic contributions to the U.S. or even the history and meaning of the constitution and bill of rights. Are we going to allow parents to opt-out of that?"
Sen. Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland) is sponsoring the Parents' Bill of Rights. She says parents can already pull their kids out of lessons like Holocaust education if they want to.
"This bill is trying to make it clear for parents what their rights are and where their rights are throughout [the] law. We debate many issues, and I've been here for many years on the issues. When we talk about exemptions for the parents. A lot of times, our compromise subject to the policies we've done is the ability of the parent to make a determination."
LGBTQ+ advocate Melina Rayna Svanhild Farley-Barratt says the bill does more than that.
"If all this bill did was compile the statutes into one place as they were written, most of us honestly wouldn't be here. We have better things to do. It is the differences, the expansions of definitions that cause us to have this alarm," Farley-Barratt says.
Farley-Barratt says the bill could penalize teachers who don't give parents important information about their kid's health and well-being. However, the she says the measure doesn't include a definition of 'well-being.' She worries that means if a kid comes out to their teacher as gay or transgender, that teacher could be forced under Stargel's Bill to out that student to their parents.
"As a parent of two queer kids, I know that should this bill pass, I will be forced to warn one of them to not talk to her teachers. At all. Or anyone there. Because they would be forced. They would be required to tell one of her other parents. And that would make her life much more problematic where she's currently living," Farley-Barratt says.
The bill is now heading to the Senate Floor.