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Cypress Bay High Students Stage Walkout Over Controversial So-Called 'Don't Say Gay' Bill

WESTON (CBSMiami) -- Hundreds of students at Cypress Bay High School in Weston walked out of class on Wednesday morning to protest the passing of Florida's controversial Parental Rights in Education bill, known to its critics as the "Don't Say Gay" bill.

They trickled out by the hundreds and circled the track at the largest high school in Florida, waving pride flags in response to the passing of the bill by Florida lawmakers on Tuesday.

The legislation forbids instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate. Parents would be able to sue districts over violations.

The proposal now moves to the desk of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is expected to sign it into law.

Students at Cypress Bay High School in Weston are walking out of class to protest the so-called "Don't Say Gay" bill. (CBS4)

Cypress Bay students were thrilled about the walkout turnout.

"Yeah, I just think it's amazing," said Cypress Bay Senior Paulina Gomez.

Gomez and fellow senior Zanett Rodriguez, who weren't due at school for another hour, looked on at the swarm of students with pride.

Gomez said, "I think it's amazing that our school is allowing this and that students are coming together to support the LGBTQ community".

Some argue the bill is a moot point because sexuality is not a part of the K-3rd grade curriculum.

Gomez and Rodriguez think it should be.

"Just teaching them gives them the opportunity and the choices of what they want to do honestly," said Gomez.

Rodriguez added, "Some kids grow thinking a certain way because of the way they're raised, but they start learning as you grow up.  I've always known my sexuality since I was little, but I never wanted to believe my sexuality."

Rodriguez does now.

For her, the show of support by thousands of her peers defines support – to her undefined preference saying, "I like men or women. It doesn't matter who you are. I just care about who you are as a person."

CBS Miami spoke with the Broward School District which said it was very well aware of the walkout.  It appears the Cypress Bay administration gave its blessing for the walkout.

In response to the passage of the Parental Rights in Education Bill, new Miami-Dade Public Schools Superintendent Jose Dotres posted on Twitter:

"Our schools have always been and will continue to be safe spaces for children and employees to be who they are. We are committed to providing a nurturing, inclusive educational environment and promoting a sense of belonging for all students across our school district.

The Parental Rights in Education Bill-HB 1557 will not deter @MDCPS from ensuring that we support and value the individuality of students while at the same time respecting the rights of parents and families.

Curriculum and instruction provided in our classrooms are age and developmentally appropriate and in accordance with state standards."

Since its inception, the legislation has drawn intense criticism from LGBTQ advocates, students, national Democrats, the White House, and the entertainment industry, amid increased attention on Florida as Republicans push culture war legislation and DeSantis ascends in the GOP as a potential 2024 presidential candidate.

Republican Rep. Joe Harding, who sponsored the measure, and other GOP lawmakers in Florida have argued that parents should be broaching these subjects with their children, rather than educators. It would not bar spontaneous discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools but instead is intended to prevent districts from integrating the subjects into official curriculum, Harding and supporters have said.

"I know how important it is to empower parents in this relationship. I want to encourage parents across Florida to own it," said Sen. Dennis Baxley, a Republican who carried the bill in the Senate. "They're your kids, and it is tough — it's tough to figure out what influences will be on them and what kinds of decisions they will make and how that all comes out."

Democrats have often said the bill's language, particularly the phrases "classroom instruction" and "age appropriate," could be interpreted broadly enough that discussion in any grade could trigger lawsuits from parents and therefore could create a classroom atmosphere where teachers would avoid the subjects.

Statewide, the bill has sparked a swell of protests and student walkouts. Dozens of students and advocates flooded committee rooms during the proposal's early stages and then packed into the halls of the legislature as it moved toward final passage, often with chants of "We say gay!"

"We have failed as a legislature if hundreds of kids stand outside screaming for their rights and you can't explain to fifth graders and sixth graders and eighth graders simple definitions of your bill. You've failed," said Sen. Jason Pizzo, a Democrat.

DeSantis has chafed at calling the proposal the "Don't Say Gay" bill because he said it would apply to instruction on any gender identity or sexual orientation. He said it was inappropriate for teachers to discuss those issues with children in kindergarten through third grade.

"We're going to make sure that parents are able to send their kid to kindergarten without some of this stuff injected into their school curriculum," the governor said Monday.

The White House, which has sparred frequently with DeSantis over a wide range of policy, had previously criticized the measure and President Joe Biden, a Democrat, has called it "hateful." On Tuesday, shortly after the measure passed the statehouse, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona issued a statement that read "leaders in Florida are prioritizing hateful bills that hurt some of the students most in need."

"The Department of Education has made clear that all schools receiving federal funding must follow federal civil rights law, including Title IX's protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity," Cardona wrote. "We stand with our LGBTQ+ students in Florida and across the country and urge Florida leaders to make sure all their students are protected and supported."

(© Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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