News4Jax | By Travis Gibson | May 17, 2022
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Duval County School Board met Tuesday for a workshop to discuss the district’s LGBTQ+ student support guide.
The district document has come under scrutiny since the “Parental Right in Education” law was passed and the district plans to rework the guide.
The DCPS LGBTQ+ Support Guide outlines the district’s procedures for employees to support and protect members of that community. The guide was produced by the district’s Department of Health Education & Physical Education and the Office of Equity & Inclusion. The guide is not considered district policy, but rather only a set of established guidelines.
A new version of the 37-page LGBTQ+ support document is described as “a critical tool at a critical time,” will soon be revamped. The school district’s lawyers have been looking at the new, smaller guide and tweaking it to make sure it complies with the new law and presented possible changes Tuesday morning.
One of the changes discussed included letting parents know if students request changing their name or pronouns on unofficial documents like a yearbook, team roster or ID card.
It serves as a guideline on how school districts should handle school-based scenarios where LGBTQ+ issues might come up. Those issues include restroom use, pronouns, overnight field trips, dress codes, prom events, inclusive language and other sensitive topics.
School board chairman Darryl Wille said the new LGBTQ guide will be condensed and included in the district’s comprehensive support guide for students and more detailed elements of the previous guide will still be used to train staff.
“We always say that parents are a critical piece to what we’re doing, and we’re gonna continue to show that. We have a staff that’s done their due diligence, we’re proactive, actually, in looking at the guides that we had, and all of our materials to make sure they comply with law. And I will do believe also that we’re gonna, we’re going to come out with something that’s even more robust, that takes care of students and really supports and guides our teachers to ensure that our students are safe, happy and wholesome, and to learn,” Willie said.
Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene’s statement within the guide highlights a need for students to feel safe at school. It reads in part:
“We all deserve to feel comfortable expressing our identities. Still, local, regional, and national surveys show that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ+) students continually experience verbal and physical harassment or threats, resulting in absenteeism, failure in school, depression, and even suicidal ideation.”Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene
In April, School Board Member Charlotte Joyce filed a resolution that would strike certain phrases from the support guide relating to communication with parents.
Her resolution specifically highlights the phrase, “it is never appropriate to divulge the sexual orientation of a student to a parent” saying it’s a violation of the “parental rights” law.
However, Joyce’s resolution did not include the full sentence which reads: “With the very limited exception involving the imminent fear of physical harm, it is never appropriate to divulge the sexual orientation of a student to a parent.”
Joyce said Tuesday these issues are important because they have the potential to drive parents away from the school district. But other board members argued that focusing too much on the guide is taking away from the district’s main goals, which include improving academic achievement and becoming an “A” district.
The document covers the current federal, state and local laws and ordinances that dictate how schools should handle school-based scenarios where LGBTQ+ issues might arise including restroom use, names, pronouns, overnight field trips, dress codes, prom events, inclusive language and many other topics.
“This Guide will support our educational community in fulfilling the rights each of us has to be affirmed, protected, and respected,” a preface authored by Dr. Greene said. “This Guide will also support the responsibility we have to be affirming, protective and respectful of our students.”
The document was thrust back into the spotlight when the “parental right” law was signed by the governor. Set to take effect on July 1, the law limits how the topics of gender identity and sexual orientation are taught in Florida schools and outright bans all instruction of those topics in Kindergarten through 3rd grade.
The main messaging from the DeSantis administration has been that the law is meant to allow parents to have full control over any conversations about gender identity and sexual orientation with their children, claiming it’s a means of protecting children from “indoctrination.”
“We will make sure that parents can send their kids to school to get an education, not an indoctrination,” DeSantis said before he signed the measure on March 28.
Meanwhile, the DCPS Support Guide acknowledges that some LGBTQ+ young people are prone to suffering rejection and/or abuse at home.
“Unfortunately, LGBTQ+ youth may experience parental rejection and/or abuse because of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” the guide said. “The degree to which teachers and administrators need to be sensitive about this issue, cannot be overstated. In short, it is a compliment when a student trusts you enough to come out to you. It is up to you to prove yourself worthy of that trust.”
The guide clearly emphasizes the importance of protecting children from bullying, harassment, and discrimination based on their gender identity or sexual orientation, even if the source of those tribulations is in their own home.
Conservative lawmakers, pundits and anti-LGBTQ activists have argued that LGBTQ rights advocation is a form of “grooming” or “sexualization” of minors, — although these arguments disregard the difference between a person’s sexual orientation and their sexual activity.
The support guide includes a one-page list of “action steps” which provides key definitions, resources and a list of the main action steps DCPS employees are to follow. one of the steps is labeled “identity” and says: “All LGBTQ+ students have the right to decide when and to whom their gender identity and sexual orientation is shared, including to a student’s family.”
The document clearly indicates that the working philosophy of Duval County Public Schools is that each individual, including a student, should be protected from harm and that their right to individuality and control over their own identity are among the most important to preserve.
The district plans to finalize the new support guide by next month and put it to the school board for approval in July. District staff will then be trained on the new guide in August.