By Ana Ceballos, The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — A proposed law that would establish parents’ authority to have more direct control over their children’s education and health care was approved by a Senate panel on Monday.
Proponents say the measure, which would create a parental “bill of rights,” would make clear that it is up to parents — and not the government — to educate and discipline their children.
But opponents argue the bill (SB 1634) would give parents “veto power” over the curriculum of public schools. Also, they pointed to part of the bill dealing with health-care issues and said it would be detrimental to gay and transgender minors who do not feel comfortable sharing certain health details with their parents.
“It scares me that if we pass this bill, we are going to put these at-risk students in jeopardy,” said Sen. Lori Berman, D-Lantana.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, was approved by the Senate Education Committee on a party-line vote. It has to clear one more committee before it can head to the Senate floor. An identical bill (HB 1059) is also moving in the House and will be considered Tuesday by the House Judiciary Committee, its last committee assignment.
During committee hearings, the measures have showcased a clash between parental rights and LGBTQ rights and have often sparked emotional testimony on both sides.
Conservatives argue the state should not interfere with the education and upbringing of children and say the bill will foster parental involvement by allowing more control over children’s health care and classes.
“I think families are in charge,” said Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala. “These children do not belong to the state, they belong to the families. And we will put safeguards in place when we believe these children are in harm.”
But opponents argue the bill would cause problems for students whose parents don’t always make the right decisions.
“School personnel have always been a safety net for children having home issues. This legislation disrupts the safety net and can be harmful to our most at-risk students,” Berman, who voted against the measure, said at a news conference on Monday.
Under the proposals, parents would have a say in any health-care decisions for their children. For instance, the bill would bar doctors from prescribing hormones to transgender children, birth control to teens or anti-depressants to anyone under age 18 without written parental consent.
Health-care practitioners would commit a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in prison or a $1,000 fine, if they provide services to minors without their parents’ permission, according to the bills.
Lakey Love, a researcher with the left-leaning Florida People’s Advocacy Center, said the bill has the potential to “disrupt access to health care and mental health counseling for LGBTQ-plus youth in public schools.”
But Stargel said the bill would not be a “huge departure from current law.” Under current law, parents have the right to consent to their children’s medical treatment.
In addition to health-care concerns, critics of the bill worry parents will be able to pull students from certain classes that are part of public education.
Parents would be able to pull their children from classes, or object to textbooks or school activities that go against their moral, sexual or religious beliefs, under the proposals. Other instructional materials a parent could reject include any and all digital media available to public school students, as well as workbooks and worksheets used in class.
Berman offered a scenario in which a child could be prevented from learning about the Holocaust. She argued a “Holocaust denier” could make the choice to keep a child from learning about that history.
“The parent has the right to remove the child from any instruction they feel could be harmful to the child,” Stargel said during the Education Committee meeting.
Stargel suggested a parent could finds teachings of the Holocaust to not be “age-appropriate.” If they do, they would be able to make the choice to pull students from classes.
After children are withdrawn from classes, it would be up to the local school boards to determine how the minors should spend their time. Stargel said most policies would move the children to libraries or study halls as classes proceed.