SARASOTA, Florida, November 8, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) - Pro-LGBT forces won a narrow victory Tuesday at the Sarasota County School Board, despite numerous parents attending a board meeting to express displeasure at both the content and handling of new guidelines for students suffering from gender confusion.
Released last month and devised by an "LGBTQIA Task Force," the guidelines (download link here) purport to help "make each Sarasota K-12 public school a safer place for all students - with particular emphasis on LGBTQIA community of students."
The document defines "gender" as a "social construct" different from "biological sex"; calls for addressing "transgender" students by their "name and gender requested" and allows them to wear whatever clothes match their "consistently asserted gender identity"; and guarantees them "equitable" access to extracurricular activities and programs.
More significantly, it also pledges to accommodate students "who want to use the locker room in accordance with their consistently asserted gender identity," as well as to guarantee their inclusion in overnight field trips.
"Accommodations may be made for any student with privacy concerns (i.e., a bathroom stall with a door), a slightly modified schedule, or a separate changing schedule," it adds. Transgender participation in overnight trips "can require some planning to ensure affirmed name, gender pronouns, room assignments, chaperones and showers are accurate and aligned with the student's core gender identity."
Despite vague commitments to address "safety" and "privacy concerns," the guidelines do not specifically guarantee a student's right not to share intimate facilities with members of the opposite sex.
Tuesday's board meeting on the guidelines saw approximately 100 attendees and almost 60 community members signed up to speak, the Herald-Tribune reports, with speakers evenly divided between defenders and opponents of the policy. Critics objected not only to the policy itself, but that the district didn't entertain community input before releasing it.
"It seems like we have to put a majority of students in an uncomfortable situation to accommodate the needs of a few," observed Cynthia Connelly, a mother of three who is concerned about her kids sharing a bathroom with a transgender student.
"I'm sorry, I don't want a young man in there with my daughter," added Traci Williams, according to WFLA.
Of particular concern was the guidelines' declaration that "it is up to the student, and the student alone, to share her/his/their identity." Several parents feared that meant keeping parents in the dark about their own kids - an interpretation Superintendent Todd Bowden appeared to confirm.
"To our students, I say this: I see you. You do not need permission from your parent or anyone else to be lesbian, gay, transgender, questioning, intersex or asexual. You exist," he declared at the meeting. "This district while I am superintendent will respect the rights of and serve the unique needs of every student, every day, whatever it takes."
"I'm very aware there are home lives that are very different than those in this room and that is not anything that we want, but we run a dangerous place where we as the district will be defining an ideal situation, and I don't know what that litmus test is," chairwoman Bridget Ziegler said in dissent. "What would happen if someone perceived you to be not welcoming, not willing to come to the table and that middle school student perceived their parents not understanding and that parent is cut out?"
Ziegler and board member Eric Robinson backed a vote to allow the school district's attorney to draft a parental notification provision to add to the policy, but it failed 3-2, establishing that the guidelines will remain in effect unchanged.
"Would the School Board withhold grades if a student asked a parent not to see them?" asked former Sarasota City Commission candidate Martin Hyde, a critic of the district. "Simply put, this is not about LGBT rights, it's about P-A-R-E-N-T-A-L rights, which are more important to our future generation than the sensibilities of a few ultra-liberals in our schools."