Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Laws Ensnare Shakespeare and Penguin Book

ORLANDO, Fla. — In response to Florida’s new law that restricts classroom materials with sexual content, students in the Hillsborough County Public Schools district will only be reading excerpts from William Shakespeare’s plays instead of the full texts. The redesigned curriculum guides aim to comply with the legislation while also taking into consideration revised state standards and the goal of exposing students to a wide variety of books for upcoming state exams. The district, which covers the Tampa area, clarified that Shakespeare’s books will still be available for checkout at school media centers.

The decision in the Tampa district is just one of the many consequences resulting from laws passed by Florida’s Republican-controlled Legislature and supported by GOP Governor Ron DeSantis over the past two years. The first law, commonly known as “Don’t Say Gay,” prohibits discussions on sexual orientation and gender identity in lower grades. The second law, passed this year, extends the prohibition on gender and sexual orientation discussions to other grades and also prohibits the use of pronouns that do not correspond to someone’s biological sex. Additionally, it strengthens the system for challenging school books. Advocates of the legislation argue that it aims to shield children from sexually explicit content.

Notably, the latest move regarding Shakespeare’s plays highlights the ongoing confusion around what is allowed in Florida schools. Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz recently recommended “Romeo and Juliet” as one of the books students should read in August. Diaz emphasized that the recommended books aim to inspire and nurture a love for literacy in students.

Meanwhile, in Lake County, located outside Orlando, the school district recently reversed its decision to restrict access to a children’s book titled “And Tango Makes Three” in response to the “Don’t Say Gay” legislation. The School Board of Lake County and Florida education officials jointly requested the dismissal of a First Amendment lawsuit filed by students and the authors of the book. The authors challenged the restrictions imposed by the legislation and Florida’s new laws. The lawsuit became unnecessary when age restrictions on the book were lifted, as clarified by a Florida Department of Education memo. The memo stated that the new law only applied to classroom instruction and not school libraries.

“And Tango Makes Three” recounts the true story of two male penguins who cared for an egg and raised a chick together at the Central Park Zoo in New York. The book has faced censorship efforts and is listed among the American Library Association’s compilation of the 100 most targeted books in the past decade.

The “Don’t Say Gay” legislation has not only affected school districts but has also triggered a conflict between Disney and Governor Ron DeSantis. As DeSantis aims to secure the GOP presidential nomination in 2024, he has made cultural issues a key focus of his campaign. After public opposition from Disney, DeSantis and Republican lawmakers took control of the district governing the area where Walt Disney World is located.

In addition, the College Board has refused to modify its Advanced Placement Psychology course to comply with Florida’s new laws, despite the inclusion of content on gender and sexual orientation. The College Board expressed its hope that Florida teachers would be able to teach the complete course. As students prepare to return to school in various districts, it remains uncertain whether any modifications to the course will be required to meet Florida’s regulations.

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