Revised lawsuit filed against Parental Rights in Education law

by | Nov 7, 2022

  • A previously dismissed lawsuit against Florida’s new parental rights law has been refiled
  • The revised version alleges the law is unconstitutional and “chills” First Amendment rights
  • The new lawsuit also alleges due-process and equal protection rights

TALLAHASSEE — Parents, students and a non-profit group have filed a revised lawsuit after a federal judge last month tossed out a challenge to a new state law that restricts instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation in public schools.

The revised version, filed Thursday in federal court in Orlando, alleges that the law is unconstitutional, including “chilling” First Amendment rights. Defendants are the State Board of Education and the school boards in Orange, Indian River, Duval and Palm Beach counties.

“The law, by design, chills speech and expression that have any connection, however remote, to sexual orientation or gender identity,” the 66-page lawsuit said. “The impact of the law has been immediate and severe. Defendant school boards and their agents have already begun implementing significant changes under the law. They have instructed teachers to review hundreds of books that acknowledge LGBTQ+ people and families and have eliminated vital support systems for LGBTQ+ students, including guidance and training that combat bullying and violence.”

The law, which has drawn nationwide attention, prevents instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation in kindergarten through third grade and requires that such instruction be “age-appropriate … in accordance with state academic standards” in higher grades. It also opens school districts to lawsuits over alleged violations of the restrictions.

Republican lawmakers this year titled the measure the “Parental Rights in Education” bill. Opponents labeled it the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

Lawyers for the parents, students and non-profit group filed the initial version of the lawsuit in July. But U.S. District Judge Wendy Berger last month denied a request for a preliminary injunction and dismissed the case. Berger, however, said the plaintiffs could file a revised version.

Berger ruled on a series of grounds, including saying that the plaintiffs did not show they had legal standing. Also, she described the lawsuit as a “shotgun pleading” and said the plaintiffs “fail to specify what policy or custom of each defendant supports liability” under the U.S. Constitution.

“Instead, plaintiffs dedicate their time exclusively to arguing that the underlying law is unconstitutional, without specifying any causal link between the actions of these defendants and the alleged deprivation of a constitutional right,” Berger wrote. “On this basis alone, the court finds that plaintiffs have failed to show a likelihood of success on the merits on any of the claims they attempted to allege.”

Berger’s ruling came after U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor dismissed a separate challenge to the law filed in Tallahassee. Like in the Orlando case, plaintiffs in the Tallahassee lawsuit filed a revised version Oct. 27.

Plaintiffs in the Orlando case are Orange County residents Jennifer and Matthew Cousins and their four children, including a seventh-grade student who is gender non-binary; Will Larkins, a senior at Orange County’s Winter Park High School and president of the school’s Queer Student Union; a married same-sex Indian River County couple, David Dinan and Vik Gongidi, who have two children in public schools; and the non-profit CenterLink, Inc., which has members including LGTBQ community centers in Orange, Duval and Palm Beach counties.

In addition to raising First Amendment issues, the revised version of the lawsuit alleges that the law violates due-process and equal-protection rights. The due-process issue stems, at least in part, from arguments that the law includes vague terms that have “led to, and continue to lead to, discriminatory and arbitrary application and enforcement across various school districts.”

As examples, the lawsuit said the measure doesn’t include definitions of “classroom instruction,” “sexual orientation,” “gender identity” and “age-appropriate.”

“The law’s nebulous and overbroad terms achieve the intended, discriminatory goal of erasing all mention of LGBTQ+ people and families in schools,” said the lawsuit, filed by attorneys from Lambda Legal Defense, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Southern Legal Counsel and the firm Baker McKenzie LLP. “The law creates lose-lose situations for parents, teachers, and students. A school either can avoid any conversation acknowledging LGBTQ+ people or face a lawsuit by any parent hostile to the presence of LGBTQ+ students and families.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis has frequently touted the law as he runs for re-election this year. When he signed the measure (HB 1557) in March, DeSantis said parents’ concerns about their children’s education are “being ignored increasingly” across the country, and he derided the law’s critics.

“They support sexualizing kids in kindergarten,” DeSantis said of critics. “They support injecting woke gender ideology into second-grade classrooms. They support enabling schools to, quote, transition students to a, quote, different gender without the knowledge of the parent. Much less, without the parents’ consent.”

1 Comment

  1. Anonymous

    Why do teachers think they have a Constitutional right to free speech while working? Our employers set the rules for our conduct during working hours. If you don’t like the rules at work, make it a contract negotiation. If the law prohibits certain conduct at work, comply with the law. If the law gets under your skin, change jobs! Get a job where you can be yourself.
    My grandkids are in college, so I don’t have to get into the trenches as a parent. If My kids were in school, I would demand we all refrain from imposing our personal views on the kids. Teach the basic skills these children need to learn more and compete in the workplace. I always emphasized reading, writing, speaking, listening, math and computer literacy. Science is an elective in my book, on the same plane with art and music. All are important but some kids are better at one skill or another. They should get exposure to all the sciences. Yes, even geology!
    The core of math should cover all math to include calculus if the child can cut it! All scientists need calculus and statistics. Chemistry 101 illustrates this point. even those pseudo sciences use these skills. Every child should take a couple of economics classes too. Personal finance and a political economy course. It is good to know the difference between socialism and capitalism. Finally, we get to History and civics. U.S. citizens and prospective citizens, need to know the basic outline of how our nation was founded, evolved and is governed. Yep, those Federal and State constitutions need to be covered. Throw in a little case law to illustrate stare decisis.

    Some will ask, “How about shop classes?” These should be electives after you have sufficient math and science courses under your belt. Drafting taught me the importance of geometry. Auto mechanics taught me lots about physics. Electrical courses taught me about algebra. How? These courses teach us what engineers use every day. Good mechanics understand what has been engineered into their tasks.

    Gay people can teach these courses just as well as anyone, maybe better! Gay people can be great role models without broadcasting that they are gay and gay is the way to happiness! LGBTQ has no place in the educational workplace. Come to work in dress that meets the workplace standard, follow policy at work, refrain from activity beyond your scope of employment. If you want to be a drag queen, get a second job where drag queens can thrive. Leave religion and politics to the parents teaching at home. Leave sex education to the health class along with proper nutrition. Worry about discipline and safety at school. Your workplace is lacking in both. File a suit demanding more police on campus and better screening systems for those entering your campus. Stop indoctrination and get back to eduction!

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