Court Judge Law Legal

Federal Judge Blocks Florida Teacher Pronoun Law, Calling It A “Pedagogical” Decision

Court Judge Law Legal
Judge With Gavel (File)

A federal judge last week rejected arguments by the state that a law restricting teachers’ use of their preferred pronouns is a “pedagogical” decision and blocked enforcement of the measure against one educator, saying it violates the First Amendment.

The controversial 2023 law restricted educators’ use of personal pronouns and titles in schools, with violations potentially punishable by teachers being stripped of certifications and hefty financial penalties for school districts.

Chief U.S. District Judge Mark issued a preliminary injunction Tuesday that blocked enforcement of the law against Katie Wood, a transgender Hillsborough County teacher who is a plaintiff in the lawsuit. Walker, however, denied an injunction sought by plaintiff AV Schwandes, a nonbinary teacher fired last year by Florida Virtual School.

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Walker also said the injunction would apply only to Wood — not statewide, as the plaintiffs’ lawyers sought.

Walker, who has presided over a slew of other high-profile cases challenging Florida laws, in Tuesday’s decision pointed in part to what he characterized as the state’s track record in curtailing speech.

“Once again, the state of Florida has a First Amendment problem. Of late, it has happened so frequently, some might say you can set your clock by it,” Walker’s 60-page ruling began. “This time, the state of Florida declares that it has the absolute authority to redefine your identity if you choose to teach in a public school.”

Attorneys for the Florida Department of Education and other defendants had asked Walker to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that the Legislature has discretion to “promote the state’s pedagogical goals and vindicate parental rights.”

Walker rejected the state’s arguments that the pronoun restriction was a “pedagogical” decision and, as a result, protected from First Amendment scrutiny.

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The judge wrote that Wood used her preferred pronouns before the law went into effect and that the “threat of mandatory discipline” prevents her from using them now.

“This is a classic speech injury — Ms. Wood spoke in the past and wants to speak in the future, but she is deterred by a credible threat of discipline. This court concludes that Ms. Wood has submitted sufficient evidence to establish an injury-in-fact,” Walker wrote.

Walker also decided that neither teacher “has demonstrated a likelihood of success” on allegations that the law violates a federal employment law prohibiting discrimination.

“The record before this court does not indicate that Ms. Wood was transferred, demoted, or passed over for training or promotion. Further, Ms. Wood has not asserted that the prestige or responsibility of her position as an educator has been diminished,” Walker said.

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