- December 14, 2020
Flagler County's school district is preparing to change its policies to comply with new laws granting parents broad access to their children's school records and restricting classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity.
One new law provides new regulations on how districts select and provide access to media center and instructional materials, and how they handle challenges to those materials.
Another, formally known as the Parental Rights in Education law but dubbed the "Don't Say Gay" law by opponents, states that classroom instruction about sexual orientation or gender identity "may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards."
The K-3 section of the Parental Rights law went into effect July 1, while the provision addressing older grades will be enacted after the state's Department of Education creates standards on what is "age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate."
Some districts have struggled to determine what kinds of discussions or actions might count as "instruction," according to news reports, leading to speculation about whether teachers would be barred from wearing rainbow lanyards or keeping a photo of a same-sex spouse on their desk.
Flagler Schools has not been considering those kinds of restrictions, School Board Attorney Kristy Gavin said.
The district is planning changes to how community members can challenge books and other media center materials they consider inappropriate in accordance with the new law on educational materials, and is anticipating new state direction on transgender students' access to bathrooms and locker rooms, she said.
"We’re waiting for those rules to come down," Gavin told the Observer.
Opponents of the Parental Rights in Education law are suing in federal court to stop its implementation.
The following are among the Flagler Schools policies being updated to accord with new state laws: Policy 411 (Educational Media Materials Selection); Policy 410 (Instructional Materials Selection); Policy 537 (Parental Access to Information); Policy 530.1 (School Health Services); Policy 643 (Records and Reports). Click the links to view the proposed changes, which are marked in red.
The district's School Board policies on selecting library and instructional materials are undergoing a broad rewrite.
The proposed revision to School Board Policy 411, "Educational media materials selection," adds a section called "challenged materials," detailing how district employees must handle parents' or community members' objections to school library materials.
It begins by noting, "Library materials deemed by some persons to be objectionable may be considered by others to have sound educational value."
Parents or community members who wish to challenge a book or other media center materials, the proposed policy revision states, must file a “Request for Reconsideration of Library Media” form, and the form "must reflect that the complainant has read the material in full."
The book will then be reviewed by a school level committee that will make a decision in 15 days; if the complainant objects to the decision, they can appeal to a District Review Committee.
A similar process, with a school level review and a district-level appeal, would let community members challenge school instructional materials used by teachers in the classroom.
Flagler Schools will retain its "opt-out" policy that lets parents keep their children from accessing certain media center materials, Gavin said, since that policy doesn't contradict the state law: Parents can use the "opt-out" option to keep their own child from accessing a book, while also filling a challenge to the book if they think other students shouldn't be able to access it, either.
The district developed the opt-out policy after Flagler County School Board member Jill Woolbright complained to the district about the inclusion of the black LGBT memoir "All Boys Aren't Blue" in media centers at Matanzas High School, Flagler Palm Coast High School and Buddy Taylor Middle School.
Objecting to the pace of the district's internal review, Woolbright also filed a criminal report with the Sheriff's Office in November 2021, saying the book's sexually explicit passages made it obscene and that its inclusion in media centers was therefore a crime.
The Sheriff's Office found there had been no crime, but the school district opted to keep the book out of the district's media centers.
A Flagler Schools "equity support training guide" from last year states: "School personnel will not unnecessarily disclose any information about a student’s sexual orientation, transgender identity or questions they may have about their sexual orientation or gender identity to third parties."
But the Parental Rights in Education law requires that parents be given access to their children's educational records — potentially expanding the category disclosures that would be considered "necessary."
Proposed new language in the Flagler Schools policy manual states that parents "shall be notified of any change in student’s services or monitoring related to the student’s mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being."
There would be exceptions for cases where the disclosure is otherwise prohibited by law, the parent is under investigation for a crime against the child and a law enforcement agency or official has advised against the disclosure, or in cases where "a reasonably prudent person would believe that disclosure would result in abuse, abandonment, or neglect."
LGBT advocates have warned the law's language on parental access to student records could result in students who disclose their LGBT identity to a staff member being "outed" as gay or trans to parents who might react violently.
Gavin said that the law's provisions about parental access apply when a student record is created or altered. So if a student mentions their LGBT status in a one-on-one conversation with a staff member, without requesting formal accommodations, the staff member wouldn't be obligated to relay that information to a parent because the student wouldn't be doing anything that would alter a student record.
"If I’m [a student] talking to a guidance counselor and I’m not wanting it shared with anyone — it’s a single person, it’s not being being broadcast out — those are not requiring a support plan," Gavin said. "But now if I’m wanting to have a support plan put in place, and I want it to apply across the board — I want multiple people to know — well, once it’s no longer that confidential one-on-one thing, that’s going to require a support plan to be put in place, and with that support plan, we do need to let them know it would become a part of their [cumulative] plan."
Requests for accommodation related to LGBT status would generally come from transgender students seeking to change their name in student records or access restrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their gender identity rather than their sex at birth.
In many instances, the district's existing policies and procedures would be unaffected by the new law, because they already require parental involvement, Gavin said.
For instance, under the district's existing practices, if a transgender student wants to change their name on their school ID card, that would require parental permission, Gavin said.
A staff member fielding such a request from a student would tell the student that the school system would need their parent's consent to make such a change. The student may then decide not to proceed with their request, and no record would be created.
The district's understanding of the law's provision barring parental notification when "a reasonably prudent person would believe that disclosure would result in abuse, abandonment, or neglect," however, would not encompass vague concerns that a parent might not be LGBT-supportive.
A staff member seeking to avoid disclosing a student's LGBT status to their parents out of a belief that the disclosure would lead to abuse, abandonment, or neglect would presumably have things to report to the Department of Children and Families, Gavin said.
The Florida Department of Education is reviewing a proposed rule on student bathroom and locker room access that may affect transgender students.
Proposed language on the department's website states that if a school district allows separation of bathrooms or locker rooms according to criteria other than sex at birth, the district's policy must be posted on the district’s website and must explain: how students are being supervised in locker rooms (i.e., by a coach or aid); which locker rooms are not separated by biological sex at birth; and which bathrooms are not separated by biological sex at birth.
It adds, "District policies must include accommodations or modifications in order to ensure that all students have a comparable opportunity to use a bathroom or locker room separated by biological sex at birth."
The Biden administration has backed transgender students' right to use bathrooms in accordance with their gender identity, and the Department of Justice recently argued in court in favor of a transgender boy who was barred from using the boys bathroom at a high school in St. Johns County.
Flagler Schools does not know when the state might release its new guidance, Gavin said.