“His or her” was changed to “their” throughout the document;
“Name” was changed to “personal title” or “title” throughout the document;
A paragraph stating that parental consent is not required if a student wants to use a nickname that is a diminutive of his or her legal name was deleted;
A paragraph stating that a form for preferred personal titles and nicknames will be provided through Skylert (the notification part of Skyward) was added;
“Locker rooms and dressing rooms” was changed to “changing facilities”;
A sentence about penalties for students using bathrooms other than those for their sex assigned at birth was modified to add “when asked to leave by a school staff member”;
A paragraph about the availability of unisex bathrooms and changing facilities was modified to remove “for any transgender student,” leaving a statement that these facilities will be available on every campus in the district.
In introducing the Guide, Director of Equity Anntwanique Edwards simply read the list of included topics and said she would not “go line-by-line today… The Guide is not long; it is brief. But clearly, I think, it depicts and states what our intentionality is to support students.” She said one Board Member had provided feedback on the Guide.
Edwards said the district will be having more meetings in the future to discuss the Guide with “representatives of our school district, as well as community and certain agencies, as we’ve done with each iteration of the Guide.”
Chair Tina Certain decided to take citizen input before the Board discussed the Guide, and Joe Smith, Lead Pastor of Shift Church, spoke first, encouraging the Board to “implement Dr. Rockwell’s suggested changes… And I would encourage you to continue to take the most liberal interpretations of the law as possible. I would add to that an encouragement to push back against the laws that do not allow for the teaching of actual American History, specifically when it comes to our state’s history.”
Tracy Amberbride said, “As a parent, I, of course, want my child to tell me everything, I want my schools to tell me things, but I think it’s really important to recognize that if a parent has to come to the school to find out if their kid is gay or trans or non-binary, that there is a problem to take heed of, that that child has already thought, for some reason, it’s not okay to come out to their parent or their guardian at this point in time… LGBTQIA kids come to school to be their authentic self when they can’t be that at home… Let’s not take away the security from the children who simply love differently than some people think is acceptable.”
Susan Bottcher said the question for the district is, “How can you stay within the letter of the law but still do everything absolutely possible to instruct the staff and the teachers and the administrators on how best to make sure that they don’t violate the law, but at the same time they put every child’s safety–mental safety, emotional safety, and physical safety–paramount?” She requested a public workshop as soon as possible to discuss Rockwell’s proposed edits to the Guide.
Tamara Deutsch said, “It’s important to be aware that, as many of these loopholes as we try to make, these workarounds that we’re trying to protect our children, that this is still going to fail queer youth, that there are still going to be queer youth whose parents are not supportive, who will not submit a name change to the school, who will not sign the slip that says that they can go to the class where they can learn about LGBTQ people. And we need to continue to push back against this and continue to try to make our schools safe.”
Caller cut off after reading from library book
A woman called in and read a passage about masturbation from a book that was reportedly found in Alachua County school libraries. Board Attorney David Delaney immediately walked over to Certain, and the call was cut off. Delaney said, “There’s a new Florida statute that says that people who want to read classroom materials at a public meeting, they need to be parents, and we didn’t have information whether that person was a parent or not in the district. It was also my advice to the Chair that she wasn’t reading from a portion of the Guide. And therefore–we’re here to talk about the Guide right now, so I didn’t think that was appropriate to go forward.”
Crystal Tessman, who is Service Unit Director for the Alachua County Education Association and wore a badge that said “I’m here” with Pride flags and a rainbow sticker, said, “Representing myself… I do want to echo the most liberal interpretation of the law and erring on the side of excessive caution for the rights of all students… I just wanted to point out on page nine, that the way that I’m reading it for field trips, it seems like a parent will be notified if overnight lodging separates by sex at birth or not. But it only looks like there’s a plan in place if they’re not separated by biological sex at birth. And it seems like there should be a plan in place for our transgender students in all situations.”
Catherine Dearlove, Senior Pastor at Trinity MCC Gainesville, said people who “struggle with these guidelines” should talk to people who will “try and help [them] understand that this is not a choice for our children… There are some of our churches and some of our families who are extremely far away from a liberal thinking. And the children that come from those families really need our support.”
Pastor George Dix said he respected “the things that you all are wanting to balance” and that he was “making no judgment of anyone… But I appeal to each one of you to also remember the Word of the Lord. And that is, as parents, and as a community, we have an obligation to make the hard decisions, to do what is right in the sight of God. Frankly, it doesn’t matter what my opinion is. What matters is what is right, and I believe the Bible is right… I want to encourage each of us to be mindful of the delicacy of this issue. Let’s of course be compassionate, be concerned with all concerned. But at the end of the day, let’s do what’s right. Jesus Himself said, ‘I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.'”
Rockwell’s questions about the Guide
When the discussion moved back to the Board, Member Sarah Rockwell, who was wearing a shirt that drew the state of Florida with the word “gay” and said, “Say it with me…,” questioned the change from “name” to “personal title” in the edited Guide, saying, “My understanding is that a personal title is what comes before your name–so Miss, Mr., Mrs., Mx., Dr., whereas your preferred name is a nickname, as opposed to your legal name, and your preferred pronouns are he, or she, they, etc.”
Delaney agreed that was “the plain reading of the statute.”
Rockwell also wanted to delete the paragraph that advises using “preferred names rather than pronouns at all, including gender-neutral pronouns,” saying, “I don’t think that’s relevant.”
Edwards: “We have not made decisions related to pronouns for the district at this point in time”
In response to a question from Rockwell about the forms that are provided in Skyward, Edwards said, “We have our AKA form. If we did something with pronouns, that would be separate… We have not made decisions related to pronouns for the district at this point in time; we focused on AKA names… There isn’t a separate pronoun form at this time.”
In response to a question from Rockwell about what types of behaviors would constitute “violations,” Edwards said staff had talked about “not outlining everything step by step, piece by piece, because there are so many different narratives that can actually come from this.” She said they would be clarifying the language, both in the Guide and in the Student Code of Conduct.
Rockwell also wanted to make sure students would not need special permission to access the unisex bathrooms or changing facilities: “We automatically out students if they have to ask permission to use those facilities.” She also wanted to make sure the unisex bathrooms are clearly shown on campus maps.
Unisex restrooms won’t be open until staff makes decision on locks
Edwards said staff members are still working on “safety for students, in terms of the locks that would be used on said restrooms… We’re trying to clarify that, to make sure that we don’t run into other issues where we cannot access restrooms for the safety needs of children… We’ve ordered [signs] but we also can’t just put the signs up until we know that students can come in and out of that restroom and that they’re safe, and that is really the only hold-up right now, is to make sure that we have adequate locks on those restrooms.”
Member Diyonne McGraw asked that the Guide include information on where students can go for support at school: “I think it needs to be written on there so they will know where to go.”
Certain was concerned that violations of the Guide could lead to the loss of teacher and other certifications: “You know, this is someone’s livelihood.”
No deadline for the Guide
Member Leanetta McNealy asked whether the district has a deadline for completing the Guide, and Edwards said there is no specified date. Edwards also asked, “Are we moving towards this being policy? Or are we moving towards this being a Guide as established by the district?”
Delaney said his advice was that “this would be in the purview of day-to-day operations of the Superintendent in the district, and that’s also the consensus from what other districts around the state are doing–rather, the few that have adopted a Guide, and it is a very small few, have not enshrined it in Board policy.”
Rockwell said she would be comfortable with staff scheduling a meeting with the community to discuss the Guide without the Board because then it wouldn’t have to meet public notice requirements: “My feeling is that we need to get this Guide finalized and published so that families and teachers and children and staff all know what’s happening; I think a lot of the fear and frustration comes from a lack of clarity that this document, when finalized, will provide.”
Abbitt: “We just need to move forward so there’s clarity for everyone”
Member Kay Abbitt said she felt there had been enough comments “that Dr. Edwards can take it and roll with it. And I feel like we just need to move forward so there’s clarity for everyone.” Certain said she agreed.
McGraw suggested that staff make “a nice video. Sometimes when you lay out a video that people can look at, they can go back and look at it over and over again. It’s just another way to communicate with our community, our constituents.”
Guide will not be incorporated into district policies
Superintendent Shane Andrew also supported moving forward as quickly as possible: “As Mr. Delaney said, if this is a Guide, it’s not policy, so we don’t have to go through the rule-making process and timeline, so it is something that can be edited and changed and be a working document… We can make tweaks and adjustments without having to bring it back to the Board… So I definitely think the Guide is the way to go, and I do think our students and teachers want something as soon as we can get it to them, even if it’s not a perfect finished document.”
Certain said that ended the discussion item and that staff would move forward with the Guide.
General public comment
During general public comment, the woman who was cut off while reading from a book called back and said her name is Lauren and she is a parent of children in the district; she said she objected to Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe being available to students in the school district, “and I request the immediate removal, and pursuant to the law and being cut off earlier and not being able to have it read, it needs to be done within those five days that the law states. I will follow up with the Board.”
Adriana Keen also called in and said while she understood why McGraw suggested making a video, “As a parent, just like I didn’t agree with showing a video of children promoting vaccines for COVID, I don’t think there is any need of a video being broadcast at my child’s school regarding this information.”
Board Member comment: “Library books without more are not classroom instruction”
During Board Member comment, Rockwell read from a Motion to Dismiss in a lawsuit regarding the statutes that restrict classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in Florida public schools: “‘The State defendants have maintained that the statute does not even arguably restrict library books… Library books without more are not classroom instruction and thus are not covered by the statute.’ So I wanted to be very clear to our media specialists, in their procedures for reviewing books, that the books simply having LGBTQ representation in it and existing in a school or classroom library, provided the book is intended for those grade levels, is not in violation of State statutes. And I want to make sure that all of our schools are using the same criteria to review their libraries so that we don’t have inequitable access to representative books.”
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