HomeEducationSchool district’s Draft LGBTQ+ Guide includes changes in policies for student privacy, bathrooms, field trips, dress code, and more
School district’s Draft LGBTQ+ Guide includes changes in policies for student privacy, bathrooms, field trips, dress code, and more
September 1, 2023
BY JENNIFER CABRERA
ALACHUA COUNTY, Fla. – A draft version of Alachua County Public Schools’ (ACPS) updated LGBTQ+ Support Guide has been posted in advance of Tuesday’s School Board meeting (6 p.m.), and parents should be aware of some interpretations of Florida statutes in the Guide.
ACPS pulled its previous guide after receiving a letter from the Florida Department of Education (FDOE) in December 2022, calling out specific policies that “may not comport with Florida law.”
The previous Guide stated that personal information about a student “will not be shared without the students’ or parents’ consent.” The new Guide states, “Personal information about a student, including his or her sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression, will not be shared without the parents’ consent if the student is a minor.”
However, the updated Guide adds this interpretation of whether information about a student’s gender identity must be shared with parents: “The simple knowledge of a student’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity, without related concerns about the student’s health, safety, or well-being, would not be considered a change in services or monitoring.” That interpretation appears to relieve school personnel of the responsibility to share this information with parents unless they “have questions about their child being LGBTQ+ and have contacted the school district.” The Guide adds, “Students should be encouraged to speak with their parents about sensitive and personal information.”
Names and pronouns for students
The previous Guide stated that “all students are to be referred to by their consistently-asserted names and pronouns.” The new Guide states that a “chosen name, preferred name, or nickname by a student may be honored by school staff” and adds that parents may provide written consent to use a student’s preferred name and pronouns, after which “staff may honor the request… but is not required to do so.”
The Guide lists several statutes, including:
Sex means classification of a person as male or female at birth. Fla. Stat. §1000.21(19)
It shall be the policy of every public [educational institution] that a person’s sex is an immutable biological trait and that it is false to ascribe to a person a pronoun that does not correspond to such person’s sex. Fla. Stat. §1000.071(1).
Based on the second statute above, the Guide says, “the better practice would be to use preferred names rather than pronouns at all, including gender-neutral pronouns. The statute does not make it false to use a student’s preferred name when the parent has given written consent.”
According to the Guide, parental consent is not required if a student prefers to use a nickname that is a “diminutive of his or her legal name, such as Billy for William or Susie for Susan. However, to avoid any issues about the use of nicknames, parents are advised to list any nickname used by the child, whether it be a diminutive or not. For example, ‘Sam’ is a diminutive for ‘Samantha,’ but it is also a diminutive for ‘Samuel.'”
The guide states that “all non-official records and verbal communications should reflect the student’s preferred name. Non-official records include such things as yearbooks, general rosters, substitute plans, seating charts, graduation rosters, bus seating charts, and newspapers/newsletters.”
In a section that may not comply with the statutes above holding that a person’s sex is “an immutable biological trait,” the Guide states that although a student’s “legal name or gender marker” cannot be changed on any legal documents without a court order, if ACPS receives a court order “for a legal name change, an amended birth certificate, or amended state identification, legal documents will be updated to reflect the student’s new legal name and gender marker.”
Violations of these policies regarding preferred names can lead to discipline of a student who uses the wrong preferred name if that action is determined to be “harassing or bullying.”
This section of the Guide attempts to clarify what is considered “classroom instruction” under state statutes. It says that grades or comments on student work (for example, an essay about the student having two mothers) should focus on organization and correct grammar and syntax “and not the specific topic.”
These items are also not considered to be “classroom instruction”:
Keeping a photograph of the teacher’s family on the teacher’s desk, same-sex relationship or not;
Being the faculty advisor of a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA);
Posting a “safe space” sticker;
Intervening when an LGBTQ+ student is being harassed or bullied.
The section concludes, “Further, it is not permissible to provide classroom instruction on being straight.”
The previous Guide instructed school staff to group students with “peers of the gender with which they identify,” and the FDOE letter objected to that policy. The new policy calls for “Reasonable accommodations… to allow all qualified students to attend and participate in a safe and equitable manner.”
The new Guide states that if students “will not be separated by biological sex at birth” on multi-day field trips, “the impacted parent will be notified of the manner of separation.” It adds that “Schools… shall not disclose the student’s transgender status to other students or other students’ parents. This may require extra planning to ensure overnight lodging room assignments are approved by the parents. Every situation is unique and will be handled on a case-by-case basis.”
The previous Guide said, “All students are allowed to access restrooms and locker rooms that are consistent with their gender identity or be provided appropriate accommodations,” and FDOE listed this as one of the problematic policies. The new Guide states that “single-user unisex bathrooms, locker rooms, and dressing rooms… will be available on every campus in the Alachua District Schools for any transgender student.”
This section states that dress code policies “should not be enforced in a manner that impacts students in a discriminatory or disparate manner.” Specifically, “shirts with gay-friendly slogans, rainbows, or other messages supporting of the LGBTQ+ community are permissible unless it is determined that the clothing created a significant disruption to the learning environment.” This disruption must be “objectively provable to other people” and cannot be considered disruptive “simply because a teacher or administrator personally considers the message to be offensive.”
Federal laws and state statutes
There is a list of federal laws and state statutes near the end of the Guide, with this interpretation of IDEA and Section 504, federal laws that guide policies on students with disabilities: “While being LGBTQ+ is not a disability, an IEP or 504 Plan can provide support and accommodations that enable the student to succeed. And for some students, the anxiety, depression, or psychological distress caused by not having their identities affirmed at school can qualify them for an IEP or 504 Plan.”
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