The Alachua County School Board presented a draft of its new LGBTQ guide to about 40 people Tuesday, with several public commenters pushing for safer standards for queer youth.
The guide has been months in the making after its predecessor was removed last year and revised in February when the Florida Department of Education wrote the school district a letter stating it violated Florida’s House Bill 1557, or the Parental Rights in Education bill. Since then, legislation like HB 1521 and HB 1069 were enacted, criminalizing gender-inclusive bathrooms and expanding the sex education restraints from HB 1557 to all grade levels. Now, the school board must account for the recent changes a month into the school year.
Ahead of Tuesday’s meeting, Jane Spear, president of LGBTQ+ rights organization PFLAG Gainesville, handed out rainbow stickers to attendees before publicly commenting on the guide.
“It’s not perfect,” she said. “But with the new state laws, it cannot be perfect.”
Restrooms and Locker Rooms
Some of the biggest changes seen in the new guide include that transgender students can only use multi-stall bathrooms if they align with the students’ sex assigned at birth. Otherwise, they must use single-stall unisex restrooms. The same rules apply for locker rooms.
The new guidelines follow HB 1521, or what some have dubbed the “bathroom bill.” If asked by ACPS staff to leave a multi-stall facility and the student doesn’t comply, they may face penalties from either the elementary or secondary codes of conduct.
ACPS is working on creating more single-stall facilities, said Anntwanique Edwards, chief of equity, inclusion and community engagement at ACPS. About 400 new signs for the restrooms have already come in, she said at the Aug. 15 board meeting.
“We 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,” she said Tuesday. “That is really the only holdup right now is to make sure we have adequate locks on those restrooms.”
Board member Sarah Rockwell was the only member to make suggestions to the draft prior to Tuesday’s discussion. She said she was concerned a student might out themselves if they must ask for a key to single-stall bathrooms, but Edwards affirmed that wouldn’t be necessary. Rockwell also requested single-stall facilities be added to campus maps.
Pronouns and Names
Students also must have written consent from a parent before a teacher uses a preferred pronoun — however, it’s not required that a teacher does so. In fact, according to the new guide, “the better practice would be to use preferred names rather than pronouns at all, including gender-neutral pronouns.”
Parents will also receive what the district calls an “AKA” form through Skyward to register the student’s legal name, preferred title and nickname.
When questioned by Rockwell why there would be separate forms for names and pronouns, Edwards said, “We have not made decisions related to pronouns for the district at this point in time.”
The new guide maintains student privacy as a pillar of importance, stating that, without cause for a concern of safety or health, a student’s sexual orientation or gender wouldn’t warrant a “change in services or monitoring.”
However, parents will be notified whether field trip room assignments are based on biological sex or not. ACPS staff also can’t intentionally withhold knowledge of a child’s LGBTQ status if a parent asks the district about it unless the staff member believes the child would experience abuse, abandonment or neglect.
Despite the majority of commenters fighting for the county’s LGBTQ youth, the district hung up on one caller because they read quoted classroom material without stating they were a parent, violating a Florida statute. The material described a masturbation scene, to which the caller said, “children are not at school to be sexualized.” The caller didn’t specify where the material was from but dialed back in later to identify themselves as a parent.
“When I was a kid, boys typically would be going for their father’s Hustler magazines and Playboy magazines,” said Helen Warren, former Gainesville City Commissioner and public commenter. “That never became an issue as a cultural conversation and political battle that we’re seeing now.”
One of the biggest challenges several board members shared regarding the guide was understanding the legal jargon they must follow.
For reference, the district turned to others that have published LGBTQ guides, though there weren’t many to follow. Palm Beach County’s guide designates multi-stall bathrooms for males and females only and encourages staff to be mindful about how they share knowledge of a child’s LGBTQ status to parents, if they must do so at all.
Board member Diyonne McGraw said the district also looked toward Pinellas County and Leon County. She said she isn’t concerned another issue will arise with the Florida Department of Education after bringing on staff attorney Susan Seigle at Tuesday’s meeting.
“The people — we have to stick together,” she said. “But how we do that is we change policy.”
Still, the board agreed the guide won’t be considered new policy, establishing there’s no deadline for the draft. The board discussed adding a community workshop for the guide, but members ultimately trusted Edwards to continue editing with the input she received.