Pasco School Board members grapple with parental consent for student clubs

A mom has asked the board to amend its policies to require parents approve club participation.
Pasco County School Board member Colleen Beaudoin
Pasco County School Board member Colleen Beaudoin
Published Oct. 26, 2018

As the Pasco County school district confronts concerns about its handling of transgender student rights, one of the related issues it expects to consider is parental permission for clubs.

It's not a simple matter for School Board members.

On the one hand, they acknowledge the important role parents play in guiding their minor children's decisions. On the other, they say they don't want to hinder students' opportunities because of a lack of parent involvement.

"I think we do need to talk about it," board member Colleen Beaudoin said.

In letters and in person, River Ridge parent GloriAnna Kirk asked the board to revise its participation policy so that all children would need to get their parent's permission to join school clubs. The Lake County school district has such a requirement, adopted in part because of community views relating to the Gay-Straight Alliance.

She raised the subject after learning that her daughters' schools offered the Gay-Straight Alliance, which she said referred children to outside organizations for advice and support. Some parents might not be aware of their children's participation, and they might not approve, Kirk said.

"They require parental permission to play sports and to go on field trips," she said. "I don't feel that what I'm asking for is anything big, or it's going to be hard for them to do."

Beaudoin agreed that parents have clear rights when directing their children's lives.

"I'm sensitive to the parents wanting to know," she said. "But I'm concerned for the kids, too."

That's where some of her qualms set in over requiring parental permission.

Some parents never sign anything, Beaudoin noted. That could prevent students from joining school activities with their peers, however innocuous.

"I don't want kids not to be involved," she said. "They need that. I hate to add an obstacle when for 99 percent of the public, there hasn't been an issue."

Beaudoin also worried about holding children back from seeking help they might need. Vice chairwoman Alison Crumbley shared that view.

"There's two things going on," Crumbley said. "You have parental rights, because they're minors. But at the same time, you don't want to deny a student access to a club, particularly if they need some help or support. It's a fine line."

For her own children, Crumbley said, she was the kind of mother who wanted to know what they were doing and if they were struggling, so she could guide them.

"The parents ultimately know what is best for the students," she said.

But creating a broad-brush rule in reaction to a specific situation could generate a different set of problems, she added.

Like Beaudoin, Crumbley said the issue demanded more research and input from a wider cross-section of the community.

"I really want to talk to people and see what their thoughts are," Beaudoin said. "I'm not 100 percent sure on this one."

Kirk said she hoped the board would meet her request. She suggested it would benefit many families, some of whom might struggle to keep up with what their children are doing.

"I do not have an agenda to wipe out any clubs or take away any resources from the kids," she said. "But I think parents have a right to be involved and to make that decision."

Related coverage: Religious rights group protests Pasco's treatment of transgender students