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Florida tells school districts: Update LGBTQ policies to avoid complaints

Some have been slow to catch up to the state’s new parental rights law.
 
Florida K-12 education chancellor Jacob Oliva, seen here at a meeting in March 2019, advised school districts on Wednesday to update their policies to conform with the state's new parental rights law, lest they invite formal challenges from parents.
Florida K-12 education chancellor Jacob Oliva, seen here at a meeting in March 2019, advised school districts on Wednesday to update their policies to conform with the state's new parental rights law, lest they invite formal challenges from parents. [ The Florida Channel ]
Published Dec. 14, 2022

All around Florida, school districts are ripping up and rewriting their policy guides on pronouns, locker rooms, athletic participation and other sensitive issues concerning LGBTQ students.

They are taking these steps to satisfy the state’s new parental rights law, which calls for notification when a student receives services at school for issues that might be related to gender identity.

But are the districts moving fast enough? And, at any speed, can they inoculate themselves from formal complaints that the new law allows parents to file?

Not entirely, state leaders said Wednesday after a 35-minute discussion by the State Board of Education.

“We’re not in a position to say we are approving or not approving,” said Florida education chancellor Jacob Oliva, who authored nearly a dozen warning letters to districts over policies that might pose problems.

“There is a process for parents, a challenge, whether or not they feel these procedures are being enacted in accordance with rules and state law. And they would have the option to go that route.”

The law is the same one critics dubbed “Don’t say gay” because it prohibits classroom discussions about sexual orientation or gender identity topics that might be considered inappropriate.

The board was updated on nine districts Wednesday including Broward, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach. Some were flagged because of staff guidelines that ask teachers to respect students’ choice of pronouns, allow them to use locker rooms in accordance with their asserted gender, and refrain in most cases from divulging a student’s sexual orientation to parents. A tenth letter from went to the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind in St. Augustine.

Staff guide books such as this one in the HIllsborough County Public Schools are being revised, sometimes repeatedly, to keep pace with state laws and directives concerning LGBTQ students. [MARLENE SOKOL | Times]
Staff guide books such as this one in the HIllsborough County Public Schools are being revised, sometimes repeatedly, to keep pace with state laws and directives concerning LGBTQ students. [MARLENE SOKOL | Times]

A few districts, including Hillsborough, also were criticized for having racial equity policies that presume the existence of institutional racism as barrier to equal chances at a successful education. While the letters did not say what was wrong with those policies, Florida also has a new “Stop WOKE” law that says students and employers should not be made to feel guilty for past actions based on their race.

One by one, Oliva described his interaction with district leaders. He said Miami-Dade has discontinued using a support guide from 2020-21, and already the School Board has updated several of its policies. “We are continuing to work with Miami-Dade,” Oliva said.

Hillsborough’s board will have a policy workshop on Jan. 17 and there is already talk of removing the phrase “institutional racism” from a 2017 racial equity policy that won the district national acclaim.

In Broward, district leaders have committed to updating their staff guidebook on LGBTQ matters by March 31. When questioned about that timeline, Superintendent Vickie Cartwright said “March 31 is the latest date” and that it is her goal “to continue to work as expeditiously as possible” to come into compliance with state law.

Palm Beach already has modified its racial equity statement, Oliva told the board. He added that a support guide ”has been removed from the district website until a new guide will be developed.”

There were questions from board chair Tom Grady and others about timing. In most cases, districts are scheduling workshops and hearings in January. The board was told about the legal process of changing formal policies, which includes public notice and hearings.

Grady remarked at one point that it is in the districts’ best interest not to delay, as a parent or group of parents can bring a complaint even if the district is in the process of revising its policies.

The districts bear the risk and full responsibility, he said. “It is their obligation to be in compliance, and it is their obligation to follow the law.”