Advertisement
  1. Education

Pasco School Board rejects pressure to change rules for transgender students

The Pasco County School Board faces an audience of about 100 people on Jan. 15, one of several meetings where large crowds came to discuss transgender students. On Tuesday, board members said they don’t plan to change their policy of following a “best practices” guide aimed at treating all students properly and keeping them safe. [JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK | Times]
Published Mar. 6

LAND O'LAKES — After months of mounting pressure from conservative groups, the Pasco County School Board is declining to change the way it deals with transgender student rights and other LGBTQ issues.

Board members on Tuesday rejected the idea of requiring parental permission slips for students to join school clubs, a request aimed directly at participation in Gay-Straight Alliance chapters. They also made clear they will not address demands by some to regulate rest room and locker room use based on a student's birth certificate gender.

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

The board heard no staff proposals on those issues as it met in a workshop to discuss policies, and members did not ask for any policy amendments.

Instead, the board and administration asserted their support for the status quo as the right approach to treating all students properly and keeping them safe. That means following the district's "best practices" guide on a case-by-case basis.

Unless lawmakers or the courts change the legal landscape, officials said, the conversation is over.

"It's done. That's how I feel about it," vice chairwoman Colleen Beaudoin said of the months-long discussion that gained national attention. "It was clear. Nobody (on the board) debated it. I was ready to. But I didn't need to."

Chairwoman Alison Crumbley agreed.

"At the moment, I'm content where it is," Crumbley said. "I think we made it clear."

Activists, many tied to church organizations, began clamoring for new rules in October, when a Chasco Middle School student who was born female told teachers he is male. He asked to be considered a boy and to use the boys' restroom and locker room.

The school's two physical education teachers objected to supervising the locker room, where children change clothing and may take showers.

They claimed they were threatened to be fired over their stance — something the district denies — and asked for help from the Orlando-based Liberty Counsel, a conservative religious-based organization that has opposed LGBTQ rights and has been called a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The Liberty Counsel disputes the term.

The two Chasco teachers also turned to the community for support.

Since then, their supporters have grown in number, as have those who back the district's transgender students.

People from both camps have flooded district e-mail in-boxes with messages either demanding change or expressing gratitude for making no change.

READ THE GRADEBOOK: Florida's best source for education news.

Nearly 200 people showed up for the board's meeting Tuesday, with 75 signing up to speak. The bulk of them wanted to discuss gender issues.

Board members, who had heard the talking points repeated over months, tried to manage the conversation.

They set a strict one-hour limit for public comments and gave priority to speakers who had not come before the board in the past five meetings. They also agreed to hold a closed expulsion hearing before the community input, with Beaudoin announcing the board would not consider policy changes, "If that is what you are here to speak about," just before clearing the room for about 30 minutes.

One result: For the first time since the controversy began, the board heard directly from teens who identified as gender fluid, transgender and transitioning. Several adults yielded their speaking time to ensure the teens had the chance.

The students thanked the board for providing safe spaces in school. They explained that figuring out who they are can be difficult, sometimes unwelcoming, and they expressed appreciation that school can provide needed support.

Maxwell Gibson, a Gulf High student transitioning to male, said he found peers in school recognize and respect him, and suggested the schools do not have a problem in that regard. He was more concerned about having an accessible restroom available near classrooms to avoid losing learning time.

Allana Taylor, part of Sunlake High's Gay-Straight Alliance, said it was important for the board to hear from people who live in the schools daily, rather than the "older generation" who "talk about bathroom policies that affect younger people."

From the other side, speakers continued to ask for a resolution to the problem they saw with allowing children, who they consider confused, to use facilities based on a preference rather than biology. They invoked religion, and called for community votes on the school district's approach.

"You need God," Michael Lerner told the board. "You need to pray to God. We need to help you figure out what to do moving forward."

INFORMATION IS POWER: The Times Education page keeps you current on issues that affect you and your family.

Board members contended they had a path forward already. They said they did not need or want to require parent permission for clubs, noting parents already can tell their children — or, if necessary, the principal — which clubs they aren't to take part in.

Parents need to be involved, board member Megan Harding said. And schools need to educate, she added, while following the state and federal laws that protect students.

District officials will continue to refine their procedures, superintendent Kurt Browning said. But that was as far as he expected changes to go, for now.

If the courts change direction, he said, "we may as a district come back in and reconsider."

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at jsolochek@tampabay.com. Follow @JeffSolochek.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Discussing sex education on Nov. 15 in Tampa are Christian conservative Terry Kemple, university health services coordinator Linsey Grove, Planned Parenthood outreach educator Paola Ferst and Hillsborough schools physical education and health supervisor Ashlee Cappucci. Not shown: County PTA Council President Damaris Allen. MARLENE SOKOL
    Lessons seek to strengthen students’ communication skills so they can make informed decisions.
  2. FILE - In this Aug. 1, 2019, file photo, Donald Trump Jr. speaks before the arrival of President Donald Trump at a campaign rally at U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File) JOHN MINCHILLO  |  AP
    University of Florida student body president Michael Murphy received a resolution for his impeachment Tuesday. Then the state’s Republican Party started an online petition and fundraiser.
  3. Representatives from the United School Employees of Pasco, on the left, present their latest pay request to the district's bargaining team during talks on Oct. 24, 2019. JEFFREY SOLOCHEK  |  Times Staff
    Officials from both sides say a deal could emerge as early as next week.
  4. A roundup of stories from around the state.
  5. Olivia Pruna, a student at Nina Harris Exceptional Student Education Center, practices with the school's drum line last year. The Pinellas County school district is asking parents and others for suggestions on ways to improve exceptional student education in the county. DOUGLAS CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    News and notes about K-12 schools and colleges in Pinellas County.
  6. Steven Currall prepares to deliver an address during his investiture as the University of South Florida's seventh president Thursday at the Yuengling Center in Tampa. MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE  |  Times
    Though he started the job in July, Steve Currall is officially installed as president on his 137th day in office.
  7. Gov. Ron DeSantis greets local officials at Dunedin High School on Oct. 7, 2019, part of a swing around the state to announce his plan to boost starting teacher pay in Florida to $47,500. He revealed a related teacher bonus plan on Nov. 14 in Vero Beach. MEGAN REEVES  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The new plan would replace the controversial Best and Brightest model that DeSantis had called confusing.
  8. Hillsborough Community College solicited "non-binding letters of interest or intent” last month from developers interested in purchasing the Dr. Gwendolyn W. Stephenson District Administration Center on Davis Islands. OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times
    Developers have eyed the 3.7 acre waterfront parcel for years, but recent interest has prompted the college’s trustees to finally start the conversation.
  9. Cotee River Elementary student Darrell Jones waves his American flag during the school's Veterans Day program.
    The School Board is scheduled to vote on the calendar next week.
  10. Pasco eSchool principal JoAnne Glenn is surprised by school district officials who announced she is their 2020 Principal of the Year. JEFFREY SOLOCHEK  |  Times Staff
    A discussion with Pasco County Principal of the Year JoAnne Glenn.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement