Florida parental rights law survives multiple legal challenges, ends Disney feud

(The Center Square) – Florida has won its legal battle over its Parental Rights in Education Act, which Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law two years ago this month.

A settlement agreement was reached this week, prompting the lawsuit to be dropped. The law remains in effect, handing DeSantis a win.

The law prohibits teachers in kindergarten through third grade from teaching about “sexual orientation” or “gender identity” in the classroom. Numerous media outlets and opponents of it, including President Joe Biden, claimed the law is “anti-gay,” or uses the words “don’t say gay” to suggest it’s anti-LGBTQ. A review of the seven-page bill by The Center Square first revealed no such language exists; the bill never uses the word “gay.”

Not soon after the bill was signed, a special session was called for the legislature to strip Walt Disney Company of its self-governing status after company executives campaigned against it. Disney sued, and a war of words escalated among Disney executives, the White House, the governor and some Florida parents and federal and state legislative leaders.

By mid-2022, DeSantis’ message on education freedom was resonating in battleground states, a teacher’s union poll found. By the end of 2022, Florida ranked first in parent-led education and its public schools were ranking among the top in the country.

By February 2023, DeSantis signed a bill into law stripping Disney of its self-governing privileges. By April 2023, the Florida legislature moved to extend provisions of its parental rights law and DeSantis also signed into law a Teacher Bill of Rights. Other state legislatures began passing school choice and parental rights bills following Florida’s model. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott pointed to Florida’s education success as a reason for Texas to pass a school choice bill.

Meanwhile, Disney continued its legal pursuit, suing DeSantis in April 2023 claiming that the legislature dissolving its self-governing status violated its First Amendment rights to free speech. By June 2023, the state argued Disney had no basis to sue Florida and moved to dismiss the case. By January 2024, Disney’s case was dismissed by a federal judge.

And then on Monday, the lawsuit filed over Florida’s parental rights bill was defeated.

“We fought hard to ensure this law couldn’t be maligned in court, as it was in the public arena by the media and large corporate actors,” DeSantis’ General Counsel Ryan Newman said. “We are victorious, and Florida’s classrooms will remain a safe place under the Parental Rights in Education Act.”

The governor’s office says the case being dropped was “a major win against the activists who sought to stop Florida’s efforts to keep radical gender and sexual ideology out of the classrooms of public-school children in kindergarten through third grade.”

The law, which is now in effect, prohibits classroom instruction about sexual orientation or gender identity in K–3 classrooms. After grade 3, such conversations are required to be age appropriate. The law also requires parents to be notified at the beginning of every school year about healthcare services their schools offer and have the ability to decline them. It also requires schools to receive permission from parents to administer questionnaires or health screenings to their children.

Activists who opposed the law and media outlets “carrying water” for them, the governor’s office said, “wrote countless stories lying about the intent, design, and application of the law. The activists carried these same lies into the courtroom – thankfully, to no avail.