South Florida Sun Sentinel | By Ryan Dailey, News Service of Florida | July 28, 2022
TALLAHASSEE — Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. told school officials Thursday to ignore federal guidelines aimed at preventing discrimination against students based on gender identity, saying they would “vastly expand the application” of Title IX.
Diaz sent letters Thursday to superintendents, school boards, private-school owners and charter-school governing boards that said guidance documents from the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Agriculture “are not binding law” and asking school officials to refuse to change their practices.
The guidelines extend protections under the law to include schools’ “obligations not to discriminate based on sex stereotypes, sex characteristics, pregnancy or related conditions, sexual orientation and gender identity.”
Title IX is a federal law enacted more than 50 years ago to prohibit sex-based discrimination in educational institutions. The U.S. Department of Education last month released a proposal that it said would “provide greater clarity regarding the scope” of sex discrimination.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is involved in such things as school-lunch programs, in May similarly announced it would begin interpreting Title IX “to include discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”
Diaz warned against schools making certain accommodations for transgender students.
“Specifically, for example, nothing in these guidance documents requires you to give biological males who identify as female access to female bathrooms, locker rooms, or dorms; to assign biological males who identify as female to female rooms on school field trips; or to allow biological males who identify as female to compete on female sports teams,” Diaz wrote.
In a news release last month, U.S. Department of Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said the guidelines, in part, will “ensure all our nation’s students — no matter where they live, who they are or whom they love — can learn, grow and thrive in school.
Diaz’s letter was an extension of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ efforts to bar what he calls “woke gender ideology” from classrooms.
The governor during a news conference Wednesday suggested that school systems in other states have included instruction that would encourage students to question their genders.
DeSantis this year signed into law a bill that restricts instruction about gender identity and sexual orientation in schools. The measure, which critics derided as the “don’t say gay” bill, has drawn federal court challenges that are pending.
Also, DeSantis in 2021 signed legislation that barred transgender female athletes from competing on high-school girls’ and college women’s sports teams.
Diaz’s letter also took aim at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, accusing it of communicating with schools and “suggesting that they should comply” with the U.S. Department of Agriculture guidance.
The state department is led by Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democrat running for governor this year who frequently clashes with DeSantis.
Diaz also advised schools to disregard what he characterized as “any suggestion” from the state agriculture department that schools post an “And Justice for All” poster, which would indicate participation in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service program.
According to the federal agriculture agency, the posters are the “primary method utilized to inform customers of their rights that displays information relevant” to federally assisted programs.
The U.S. Department of Education and the state agriculture department on Thursday could not be reached for comment.