The Pasco County school district's posture on the treatment of transgender students has continued to generate heated debate even as system officials have worked to offset criticism by stating their reliance on federal rules and court precedents.
During several recent meetings, a group of residents has asked the board to restrict restroom and locker room use to a student's birth certificate gender. They also have demanded the district not penalize employees who refuse to monitor areas where transgender students are changing or showering, among other concerns.
A second group has pressured the district to hold its ground in protecting the rights of all students, regardless of how they identify themselves.
The Orlando-based Liberty Counsel — a conservative religious-based organization that has has opposed LGBTQ rights to the extent that some have labeled it a "hate group"— has joined the side of those pushing for the rights of non-transgender students and teachers who might have privacy concerns of their own relating to the rules and school experiences.
Some of the issues relate to a situation at Chasco Middle School, where a student who identifies as male asked to use the boys' locker room during physical education classes. The school's P.E. teachers said they did not want to supervise the locker room, and that they wanted to inform all parents and students of the transgender child's presence — something the district said would violate that student's rights.
Just before winter break, the Liberty Counsel aimed to up the ante by making a renewed set of demands from the district. It set a Jan. 18 deadline by which it wants the district to take several steps, including:
– Written confirmation it will not retaliate against any teachers who are "standing for the dignity and privacy of all students and the rights of their parents."
– Written guarantee that no teachers will be required to use "false gender pronouns" for any students, or to supervise single-sex restrooms or locker rooms where students of the opposite gender are permitted to shower or change.
– School Board rejection of its currently used gender support plan, replacing it with a policy "recognizing biological sex as the standard for district single-sex facilities and programs."
– Adoption of a new policy requiring parental permission for all club participation.
– Written confirmation that the district "prohibits all classroom LGBT political activism, specifically the drag queen coloring books."
– Requirement that school psychologist Jackie Jackson-Dean make publicly available her library of LGBTQ materials. The district has taken the position that the materials are not public record, as Jackson-Dean purchased and maintains them privately, and not with district funds or on district grounds.
Related coverage: Pasco schools psychologist comes under fire in transgender flap
School Board members so far have shown limited interest in changing the district's approach, which superintendent Kurt Browning has repeatedly stated is designed to respect every student's rights.
Board attorney Dennis Alfonso meanwhile has reminded the board that it already has several anti-harassment policies in place that relate to gender, as well as race, religion, national origin, disability, age and marital status.
He added in a memo that while it is true the board does not have a policy specific to transgender issues, neither does it have separate rules for other protected groups. It has been up to the administration and staff to develop procedures consistent with existing policy, as well as state and federal law, Alfonso wrote.
People seeking change have said they expect to continue attending board meetings to make their case.
Note: This post has been updated to include a brief description of the Liberty Counsel.