Democratic members of the Florida House have introduced amendments to a contentious bill that would grant school districts the right to adopt policies that allow K-12 students to give “inspirational messages,” which may include prayers or hateful messages, during any school event. The bill is scheduled to be heard this afternoon on the House floor.
The Florida Senate has already passed the bill, which now requires a House vote before it can move to the governor’s desk to be signed into law.
Reps. Martin Kiar, D-Parkland, and Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee, have introduced amendments aimed at preventing certain types of messages that could be harmful to students if said during school events.
Rehwinkel Vasilinda introduced an amendment requiring the schools that choose to adopt such policies to give students an ethics course.
According to her amendment:
The course must include 30 hours of education, administered in a single school week, in the first month of school or the first month after the policy is created, whichever is later.
The course must contain:
a. Ten hours of education on antibullying and cyber-bullying.
b. Ethics, comparative religion, and conflict resolution education.
c. Information on the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and religious freedom. Beginning in grade 7, this should encompass at least 5 hours of the course.
d. Multiple role-play simulations for each component of the course.
Kiar’s amendments, however, would out-right prohibit students from giving any inspirational message that “could or would endanger the health and safety of children, distorts well-established historical facts, or [expresses] anti-American sentiments that are intended to disparage, either directly or indirectly, the United States of America.”
Critics of the bill, which are mostly Democratic members, have said that, if passed, it could potentially invite “messages of hate,” like racist or anti-Semitic comments. The bill also does not allow for faculty in schools to monitor or advise students over what they include in their speeches.
The measure has gotten attention from civil rights groups, who say the law is unnecessary and could lead to costly litigation for the schools that choose to adopt such a policy.