Nearly a year after the first complaints emerged, Pasco County schools superintendent Kurt Browning has scrapped his district’s 71-page “best practices” guideline for dealing with LGBTQ students.
In its place, Browning has distributed a one-page document telling district employees how to handle such issues as student pronouns and names, confidentiality of gender identity and dress code.
“This will still ensure all of our students are safe,” Browning explained, calling the discarded guideline “cumbersome” and the new reference sheet more user-friendly.
Student safety is a critical concern, the superintendent said, especially in light of a recent anonymous survey of high schoolers that showed the LGBTQ population is the district’s most at-risk group. The data revealed that LGBTQ youth are more likely than others to feel unsafe at school, to be bullied, to feel sad and to have attempted suicide.
The information helped the district identify and address its clear needs, he said.
The district has come under heavy criticism over the “best practices” guideline for nearly a year. Conservative groups have blasted the document, which the School Board had not adopted as policy, because it left room for transgender children to use the restroom and locker room associated with their gender identity.
They also did not like the idea that staff members were encouraged not to tell parents of students’ gender identity without getting the student’s permission.
Browning removed the language, saying professionals would be following their associations’ standards and ethics. The district never intended to keep information from parents, he added.
But the idea that the parents might remain out of the loop regarding their own children, and that students could continue to use facilities based on their gender identity, still lingered. And the critics did not change their tune.
New Port Richey activist Pat Rogers said she was glad the district listened to calls for removing the “best practices” guide. But she disapproved of what she considered a continued lack of transparency by making changes at the administrative level, without input from School Board members, parents, residents or students.
“I believe in true transparency,” said Rogers, who frequently called for a public hearing on the district’s rules.
Terry Kemple, a Hillsborough County activist advising Pasco County’s protesters, told the School Board on Tuesday that his hopes rose after Browning announced the end of the “best practices” guide. Then he saw the replacement.
“It’s still the same thing, but it’s only one page,” Kemple said, warning the board that the group will keep advising Pasco families about what’s going on in the schools with the LGBTQ rules. “We’re going to expose it to the light.”
Others praised the district for holding firm in the face of those “stirring up what isn’t a problem.”
“What you have implemented is working. Please don’t back down,” said pastor Andy Oliver of the Allendale United Methodist Church of St. Petersburg.
He told the board that too many LGBTQ youth do not have supportive parents, and that almost half of transgender teens have attempted suicide.
“This is a life and death issue,” Oliver said. “We protect all kids. We must protect the most vulnerable among us.”
His son, Liam, also spoke to the board.
“It is very important that we use preferred pronouns. It makes people feel welcomed … and it is the right thing to do,” the fifth-grader told the board. “Growing up and figuring out who you are is hard enough without bullies.”