Carlton: Can't we even agree to support public school kids who need it?

Even in polarizing times, surely we can agree that supporting a marginalized population of teens in schools - transgender kids - is a good idea. But in Pasco, conservative groups say no.
"I have a responsibility to provide a safe, respectful learning environment for everyone," says Pasco Schools Superintendent Kurt Browning.
 [MICHELE MILLER |  TIMES]
"I have a responsibility to provide a safe, respectful learning environment for everyone," says Pasco Schools Superintendent Kurt Browning. [MICHELE MILLER | TIMES]
Published December 5
Updated December 5

Even in these come-out-swinging times we live in, surely we can concur on at least one thing when it comes to our public schools:

We need to do what we can to protect and help the kids in them.

And that means all the kids in them.

In Pasco County, however, even this basic tenet has managed to become a nasty point of contention.

As the Times' Jeffrey S. Solochek reports, conservative groups and like-minded critics are objecting, and loudly, to what they see as the special coddling of LGBTQ students, and transgender students in particular.

And it will surprise no one that this has gotten attention all the way to Fox News.

Opponents have taken aim at a district school psychologist who works to help such students adjust as they struggle with issues of identity and a world that does not necessarily welcome them with open arms.

And for the record, we are talking about a youth population that deals with discrimination, victimization and rejection, one that studies show is alarmingly vulnerable to suicide attempts.

So it's confounding — and more than a little sad — to hear strong objections to district guidelines on how to serve transgender kids that were adapted by a committee of district educators from a model used across the country.

And to hear the work of that psychologist who has been there 16 years, who focuses on marginalized populations and who once won teacher of the year in her division, called a "twisted agenda" and a "waste of our tax dollars."

Conservatives also are taking up for a middle school physical education teacher who has declined to monitor the boys' locker room when a student identifying as male is allowed to change in there.

The headline on the Orlando-based Liberty Counsel's site: School Seeks To DESTROY Male Teacher For Not Watching Girl Shower. In case you missed the point, the story says he wasn't willing to "watch a young girl shower naked."

And that sure does sound wrong, doesn't it?

Except Pasco officials say the teacher in question was not disciplined and the students don't actually shower. They change from school clothes to gym clothes and back again.

But hey, where's the headline in that?

Also raised: Kids should not be allowed to join clubs without parental permission — this after the mother of a student learned of a gay-straight alliance club and was not pleased. Also: parents should have access to reading materials "BEFORE children are exposed to someone else's ideologies."

Sure, because school is no place for young people to learn about what else is out there in the world that might be different from them.

Public schools have the obvious lofty goals - to educate, to support young minds and to raise students up to their fullest potential. But doesn't one of the most basic aims also have to be helping them get through this time and out the other side as healthy and whole as we can manage?

Pasco superintendent Kurt Browning — who is by the way, Republican, conservative, and "a Baptist to boot," he says — has rightly held the line against the onslaught.

"I have a responsibility to provide a safe, respectful learning environment for everyone," he says. "I took an oath. Not only that, it's the right thing to do."

Has the world really spun so far out of control that we can't agree on at least that?

Contact Sue Carlton at [email protected]

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