Bills restricting classroom topics have nearly tripled in 2022
In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law, which limits discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom. File Photo by Joe Marino/UPI | License Photo

Aug. 17 (UPI) — State legislatures are increasingly proposing bills to restrict how topics including race, gender identity and sexual orientation are taught in school, according to a report published Wednesday by a group advocating for freedom of expression.

The number of such bills, called educational gag orders, has increased 250% in 2022 and mostly proposed by Republican legislators, according to the report by PEN America. Thirty-six states have introduced 137 such bills since January, compared to 54 bills in 22 states last year.

Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Act, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law, for example, limits classroom discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity. Several other states have filed similar bills. Proponents, including Gov. Ron DeSantis, say the legislation is aimed at protecting parental rights over their children’s education.

PEN America said in a press release that the trend threatens students’ First Amendment rights.

“The sheer volume and unrelenting pace of censorious proposals have cast a powerful chill over the teaching of U.S. history, race, LGBTQ+ identities and other essential topics,” the organization said.

Most of the gag orders are focused on limiting the teaching of race, but increasingly topics involving LGBTQ+ are a focus. Some 39% of the bills introduced this year have targeted colleges and universities.

PEN America said many of the bills will result in teachers altering their lesson plans to avoid running into legal trouble and also narrow the scope of what students hear.

“Our report documents in alarming detail the threats to how young people learn and are taught in American schools,” the group’s CEO Suzanne Nossel said. “Lawmakers are undermining the role of our public schools as a unifying force above politics and turning them instead into a culture war battleground. By seeking to silence critical perspectives and stifle debate, they are depriving students of the tools they need to navigate a diverse and complex world.”

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