Pasco schools psychologist comes under fire in transgender flap

District officials defend Jackie Jackson-Dean and the role she plays helping students.
Pasco schools psychologist Jackie Jackson-Dean spends part of her week as a liaison for LGBTQ students. [Jeffrey S. Solochek | Times]
Pasco schools psychologist Jackie Jackson-Dean spends part of her week as a liaison for LGBTQ students. [Jeffrey S. Solochek | Times]
Published November 27 2018
Updated November 28 2018

The wrath of conservative groups opposed to what they see as special treatment of transgender students has come down hard on Pasco County schools in the past few weeks.

And a district school psychologist who strives to help LGBTQ students adjust as they struggle with their identity has come directly into the crossfire.

"Fire Jackie Jackson-Dean, who has the most ridiculous liberal agenda pushing job I've ever heard of. She is a waste of our tax dollars," Wayne Jackson II, who grew up in the county, wrote to superintendent Kurt Browning in a recent email.

Critics from both inside Pasco and around the nation have painted Jackson-Dean as someone who is foisting a "twisted agenda" onto an unwitting school system. They accuse her of promoting policies the School Board has not approved, steering students to services the district has not vetted, and worse.

Related coverage: Pasco residents call for changes to school district policies on transgender students, club participation 

The Orlando-based Liberty Counsel, known for its anti-transgender stance, has repeatedly called out Jackson-Dean in its incendiary news releases, which several conservative websites such as The Federalist have picked up. Those have circulated throughout social media, grabbing enough attention to lead Fox News host Shannon Bream to run a six-minute segment Nov. 20 on the Pasco situation.

(The concern has centered on Chasco Middle P.E. teachers who have refused to monitor the boys' locker room while a student identifying as male is allowed to change there.)

That Fox News spot led school district lawyer Dennis Alfonso to send a letter that defends Jackson-Dean (though not by name) and the work she and the district have done, while also pointing out some of the inaccuracies that have been circulated (such as the claim the P.E. teachers were disciplined for their refusal to monitor the locker room).

Among Alfonso's points: "The school staff have been provided supports and training to assist with the presenting issues in a manner that is consistent with controlling Federal law, and the School Board has offered practical  guidance for these circumstances."

Jackson-Dean has spent 16 years with the Pasco school district, focusing the majority of that time on "marginalized populations."

"This one jumped to the top," Jackson-Dean said, referring to the LGBTQ students.

A part-time employee, Jackson-Dean also is a registered mental health intern, and serves on the district crisis team in addition to working as an in-school psychologist and the district LGBTQ liaison. She has been a teacher of the year award winner in her division.

Her main concern, she said, is that transgender students have a high suicide attempt rate, often over discrimination, harassment, rejection and depression. It's a unique situation because many other people cannot identify with what they're going through, she explained.

"You end up walking this fine line when it comes to this particular population, because no other kids are at such risk of family rejection," Jackson-Dean said. "They are told to leave and not come back."

The guidelines she shares with other educators about how to serve transgender youth came from a committee of district educators, she added, and is adapted from a model used across the nation. "It isn't something I developed from scratch."

District officials said they have known about the guidelines, which are not cemented in policy so they can be more easily modified as the legal landscape changes on transgender issues. The goal, superintendent Kurt Browning told the School Board, is to ensure that all student rights and needs are met.

We will provide supports not only for these students, but for all students,” Browning said.

The immediate response among some who were listening was to accuse Browning of obscuring the truth, and to keep attacking the district effort led by Jackson-Dean.

The district continues to receive emails and petitions calling on the board to reject the gender support plan in place, to require students to use locker rooms and restrooms according to their birth certificate gender, and to protect the privacy rights of employees and students beyond the transgender individuals.

They also want the board to require parental permission for students to participate in clubs, and to gain access to reading materials "BEFORE children are exposed to someone else's ideologies."

Board members have said they will seek more legal advice as they look into any requested changes in direction. One thing several mentioned is a concern that some parents are not involved, and that could hurt a child's opportunities to participate and find support.

Jackson-Dean stressed that's a key issue for LBGTQ youths. She expressed hope that some peoples' fears will not dominate the discussion.

"The positive I take from this is that it is bringing about conversation," Jackson-Dean said. "Without conversation, we're not able to move forward."

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