A Florida school board has overruled the superintendent’s decision to cover up a pro-LGBTQ+ page in this year’s yearbook that expressed opposition to the state’s Parental Rights in Education law.
Seminole County Schools Superintendent Serita Beamon had argued that the yearbook page violated district policy by appearing to endorse a walkout protest against the parental rights law, falsely dubbed “Don’t Say Gay” by its critics. The page featured pictures from a March protest at Lyman High School showing students waving rainbow flags and a “love is love” sign.
Beamon had ordered stickers to cover the entire page and had planned to add them to the yearbooks before they were given to students this week.
But Seminole County School Board members unanimously voted to reject her plan Tuesday night, opting instead to add smaller stickers that would not cover the words and photos on the page but would add a disclaimer that the protest outside Lyman High School was unauthorized, the Associated Press reported.
“I would be happy out of my own personal pocket to pay for different stickers to say this was not a school-sponsored event,” said board chairwoman Amy Pennock.
The parental rights law, signed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis in March, bans classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade and restricts such discussion to what is “age” or “developmentally appropriate” in later grades as determined by state standards.
Critics accused the law of restricting speech in the classroom and hatefully targeting LGBTQ+ people, while its supporters asserted it is inappropriate to discuss sexual material with children between five and eight years old.
The plan to cover up the yearbook page drew opposition from students, parents, and teachers, who accused the superintendent of censorship and took to social media posting “#stopthestickers.”
“It is silencing the LGBTQ-plus community and silencing the journalistic community,” said Sara Ward, a student on the yearbook staff who spoke at Tuesday’s school board meeting.
Beamon denied that her intention was to censor pro-LGBTQ+ students or silence anyone’s voice.
“I want to be clear to each and every student that this was not about the Lyman High School administration looking to try and target any student, to try and silence any voice,” she said.
She argued that school board policies authorize administrators to restrain certain speech in school-sponsored publications that could be disruptive of school activities.
“There is some speech that is prohibited. And that includes speech that is likely to cause substantial disruption or that materially interferes with school activities or the educational process,” Beamon said.
The board disagreed, calling the student walkout a peaceful protest and saying there was nothing wrong with featuring it on the yearbook page.