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Carlton: A good lesson: Pasco schools won't cave on transgender protections

About 100 people came to this 2018 meeting to talk to the Pasco County School Board about policies on transgender students. This week, school officials refused to cave to pressure. [JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK / Times]
About 100 people came to this 2018 meeting to talk to the Pasco County School Board about policies on transgender students. This week, school officials refused to cave to pressure. [JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK / Times]
Published Mar. 11, 2019

Here's a lesson from the people who run public schools in Pasco County.

Sometimes, even in the face of formidable pressure, the right thing to do is:

Nothing.

You keep on doing what you were doing because, even with all the noise, it's the right thing to do.

For months, conservative groups including the Orlando-based Liberty Counsel — called a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, though Liberty Counsel begs to differ — mounted an offense against Pasco's policies for dealing with the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students. Related: Pasco School Board rejects pressure to change rules for transgender students

That's a population especially vulnerable to bullying and harassment. In fact, in a report released in January, 86 percent of Florida LGBTQ students surveyed said they regularly hear homophobic remarks at school.

Most never reported any verbal or physical harassment to school staff. And only 25 percent who did said it resulted in effective intervention.

So dealing with this right make sense.

Opponents to Pasco's policies — who consider transgender kids to be merely confused — wanted which restroom or locker room a student uses restricted to the gender on that student's birth certificate.

They wanted a guarantee that teachers wouldn't be forced to use "false gender pronouns" about students. They denounced the district's current standards, intended to treat students equally and keep them safe.

They even pushed to require permission slips signed by parents before kids could join school clubs — a direct shot at gay-straight student alliance organizations that sound like a pretty good way for kids to support and better understand each other.

Shouldn't parents be all for that?

Anyway, no surprise this opposition to how Pasco is handling a sensitive subject made it all the way to Fox News.

Nearly 200 people showed up to a school board workshop Tuesday and 75 signed up to speak. Board members were told they needed God.

But as the Times' Jeffrey S. Solochek reported, the school board also got to hear from students who talked about how difficult it can be figuring out who they are.

They heard appreciation for the fact that schools can provide much-needed support. Grown-ups even turned over their time so young people could talk. There's a lesson somewhere in there, too.

A high school student said it was important to listen not just to the "older generation" talking "bathroom policies that affect younger people."

And it's true that some of the older and even not-so-much-older generations are on a learning curve here, that for some this is uncharted, unfamiliar territory. There's nothing wrong with asking questions.

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But doesn't it make sense to come at it wanting to better understand, rather than to deny and condemn? The second one's easier, but more destructive. And we're talking about kids here.

In the end, the Pasco County School Board members made it clear that, despite the petitions and the pressure, they do not intend to take the backward step of adopting suggested restrictions on how they handle things. They said they would follow the current state of the law until or unless that law changes.

Clearly, they're trying to get it right, to balance sensitivity with sensibility and the daily concerns of running schools. The board came down on the side of protecting the rights of the kids in their charge. All of them.

As the world evolves, maybe more of us will see a lesson in that, too.

Contact Sue Carlton at scarlton@tampabay.com.