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Pasco superintendent considers revisions to LGBTQ school guidelines

Parent rights need to be more taken into account, Kurt Browning says.
More than 100 people turned out Jan. 15, 2019, to give the Pasco County School Board their thoughts on the district's policy and procedures for transgender student rights. Jeffrey S. Solochek | Times
More than 100 people turned out Jan. 15, 2019, to give the Pasco County School Board their thoughts on the district's policy and procedures for transgender student rights. Jeffrey S. Solochek | Times
Published Jul. 31, 2019|Updated Jul. 31, 2019

Pasco County schools superintendent Kurt Browning is giving a closer look to the LGBTQ “best practices” guide that has caused his district fits since the fall.

“You can probably anticipate some revisions to that guide soon,” Browning said.

His chief concern: Suggestions that educators not tell parents about a student’s decisions without the child’s permission. He referred to lines in the document such as, “Respect their privacy and refrain from talking to anyone else about the student — including their parent(s).”

It’s an issue that critics have flogged the district for after learning that Chasco Middle School teachers did not inform families that a transgender boy was using the boy’s locker room for physical education classes. One of the teachers later complained to the Liberty Counsel, an organization that has taken an anti-LGBTQ position based on religious grounds and that some have called a hate group. The story went viral in conservative media.

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

“They keep hammering us about where we cut parents out,” Browning said. “That too concerns me, and it concerns a number of folks up here. We’re trying to find that balance between keeping kids safe and letting parents know.”

Any changes will come as procedure, and not as board-approved policy, he added, insisting the guidelines offer recommendations to staff regarding LGBTQ youth and are not set in stone. The district addresses each situation individually, he said.

Board members so far have steadfastly refused to budge in their stance on the treatment of LGBTQ students, saying they will follow state and federal nondiscrimination rules, as well as court precedents. Like Browning, they have said they want to ensure the safety of all students.

They generally listen to the bi-weekly criticism without comment.

Related: Pasco School Board rejects pressure to change rules for transgender students

Some have suggested, though, that the role of parents might need some clarification.

The drumbeat for changes continued Tuesday, when the same core group of protesters arrived at the board’s meeting to repeat demands for reconsideration of the “best practices” guide.

Regular speaker Pat Rogers suggested the document needs a full vetting by the board, so the public can have input into the way the district handles what she argued should be policy.

The existing document promotes the views of a small group, Rogers said, “at the expense of the rest of our children. ... Please do something. You are guardians of our children.”

Parent GloriAnna Kirk, who has pressed the board to require parent permission slips for student club participation, told the board that its “unofficial policy” supports “gender affirmation therapy,” and urged members to do more research on whether they want to permit it.

She, like others, called for a fuller review of the guideline.

Related: Pasco transgender student rights debate prompts talk on parental permission for clubs

Browning expressed dismay that the group criticizing the district has, in his view, played fast and loose with facts in order to make a political point. He suggested the issue has been polarizing, and he said he’d like to find a middle ground “where we all agree to disagree but we can peacefully coexist.”

That might not be possible, he said, given the hard lines people have drawn. But that isn’t deterring him from taking a stab at refining the items he sees as needing a fix.

“It has never been my intent,” Browning said, “to keep parents in the dark.”