(NEW YORK)— PEN America said today the Florida Board of Education’s expansion of the “Don’t Say Gay” law to include all grade levels “sends a disturbing message” that demonstrates clearly that this bill was never intended merely to protect the youngest children. The free expression organization called the move a “flagrant escalation” of educational censorship.

The procedural rule that will expand HB 1557, bans instruction related to sexual orientation or gender identity in all K-12 schools at all grade levels. Such instruction may still take place as part of the reproductive health curriculum, though that curriculum is not required of students under Florida law.

The expansion comes as copycat bills have spread across the country, with one becoming law in Arkansas just last month.

In response, Jonathan Friedman, director of Free Expression and Education Programs, released the following statement.

“With this decision, the DeSantis administration and the Board of Education are continuing a frontal attack on students and public education in Florida, but they’re also giving the lie to the argument that this was ever about protecting the youngest children. Plainly, this is really an effort to exert ideological control over public education and suppress stories about and expression by LGBTQ+ people. We don’t need to look hard to see the disastrous effects of last year’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law, which has led to a spate of book bans and self-censorship across the state, prompted by fear of punishment. Rather than fix the vague language that has caused this chilling effect, the Board is doubling down on it, expanding the censorious reach of this provision to all public school grades. That is certain to worsen the situation and instill more fear among teachers, librarians, and school administrators. Beyond this flagrant escalation of educational censorship, the decision sends a disturbing message that some families and students can be erased from public recognition, their stories, histories, and identities prohibited from being discussed among the rising generation. The Board has made an alarming decision that will continue to undermine the quality of public education in Florida, and will continue to set it apart as one of the worst states for free expression in the country.”

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. To learn more visit PEN.org

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057