Lawmaker: LGBTQ, disabled students, need more protection

The LGBTQ community faces questions on policy. CD Davidson-Hiers/Florida Phoenix

State lawmakers are concerned about discriminatory practices against students who have a disability or identify as LGBTQ, and are pushing legislation focused on Florida private schools that receive public funding through the state’s voucher programs.

The vouchers, also called “scholarships,” enable students to attend private K-12 schools with public dollars.

“This type of discrimination is rampant.. and these schools are publicly funded,” according to State Rep. Anna Eskamani, an Orlando Democrat who spoke to the Florida Phoenix by phone. She has filed legislation to protect students.

But Florida House members haven’t reached an agreement to advance the legislation that would prevent discrimination against these students who seek enrollment at private schools.

“Having conversations with the committee chairman of our first committee staff, we’ve been told that our bill will unlikely get a hearing because Republican leadership doesn’t see the need for it,” said Eskamani, who is a graduate of Orange County Public Schools in Orlando.

“This has been a sentiment echoed by Richard Corcoran [Florida’s Education Commissioner and a former Republican Florida House Speaker] as well and I think it’s a complete avoidance to talk about the problem.”

Eskamani filed HB45 in August of 2019, and Florida Senate by Sen. Darryl Rouson, who represents parts of Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, filed the companion bills.

The proposed legislation would expand requirements of the state’s scholarship programs, adding that schools “may not deny enrollment to a student based on the student’s race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, disability, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity.”

She also noted that discrimination based on sexual orientation has affected Florida teachers as well.

“The current system we have in place does not establish equity for any child or parent, and since we filed this bill, we also saw in Brevard County a teacher fired for attending a PRIDE [event] and for co-sponsoring an organization and she was terminated for those reasons,” Eskamani said.

“All the excuses of why we shouldn’t pursue this bill don’t hold any merit when you consider discrimination concerns.”