The Florida government has proposed expanding existing law prohibiting discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity with students in kindergarten through third grade to apply to all pupils in public education through 12th grade unless such material is part of the school curriculum that parents can opt their children out of.

Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz said the proposed rule is aimed at providing greater clarity for teachers.

“This rule basically says that we’re sticking to the standards and when you’re talking about K-12 instruction all the way through 12th grade, these standards don’t incorporate gender ideology or any of these theories in math, social studies, reading or anything else,” Diaz said.

The proposed rule is the latest move by the administration of Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, who is expected to seek his party’s 2024 nomination for president, to limit or prohibit instruction on topics conservatives consider inappropriate for the state’s classrooms.

Last year, DeSantis signed a Republican-backed measure that banned classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity for students in kindergarten through third grade. Critics denounced what they dubbed the “don’t say gay” bill.

Additionally, the proposed rule creates an entirely new section requiring school officials to “not intentionally provide classroom instruction to students in grades 4 through 12 on sexual orientation or gender identity unless such instruction is either expressly required by state academic standards … or is part of a reproductive health course or health lesson for which a student’s parent has the option to have his or her student not attend.”

Those hoping to leave a comment on the proposed rule have until April 6 to do so. The State Board of Education is scheduled to consider it on April 19.

Diaz spoke following a rally with DeSantis in Orange Park Thursday. Right now, state law prohibits lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity through 3rd grade and a bill moving through the legislature extends that ban through 8th grade. Rep. Adam Anderson (R-Tarpon Springs) is helping to usher that bill through the process. He said deciding what defines discussions on gender identity and sexual orientation puts schools in a difficult spot.

I think if we asked 12 different people in this room that exact same question, we’d probably get 12 different answers and that’s a question that our principals and our teaches are getting every day,” Anderson said. “And that’s specifically why we are excluding classroom discussion on those so we can get our teachers back to the core subjects like reading, science math and history.”

Under the rule, teachers could face disciplinary action if they discuss sexual orientation or gender identity outside of mandated curriculum or health courses that parents have been briefed on and given the option to keep their children out of class for those lessons.

“There is no reason for instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity to be part of K-12 public education. Full stop,” DeSantis spokesperson Bryan Griffin tweeted on Wednesday.

Advocates for the LGBTQ community are pushing back. Brandon Wolf is the press secretary of Equality Florida. He said the expansion of the ban is one more step in a wider strategy the GOP controlled legislature is pushing forward this year.

Critics of curriculum teaching students about sexual orientation and gender identity contend that such topics are best for parents to discuss with their children. Outrage over the embrace of LGBT ideology, sexually explicit material and critical race theory in public schools has led to a grassroots movement to elect candidates opposed to such politically charged curriculums to school boards. Such efforts have achieved particular success in Florida.

The Clay County School District previously faced criticism for “affirming” a 12-year-old girl’s self-declared gender identity as a male without her father’s consent or knowledge, a factor he contends played a role in her suicide attempt.

Last year, in the November general election, candidates endorsed by the 1776 Project PAC won school board seats in Flagler, Indian River, Pinellas and Volusia counties. At the same time, another interest group with a similar mission, Moms for Liberty, saw its endorsed candidates emerge victorious in Brevard County, Collier County, Lee County, Manatee County, Pasco County and Volusia County.

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