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School code of conduct draws criticism

Public has been misinformed on policies pertaining to LGBTQ student protections, officials say

By MEGHAN BRADBURY - | Apr 21, 2021

news@breezenewspapers.com

Additional discussion on aspects of the School District of Lee County’s controversial code of conduct has been set for Monday, April 26.

The meeting has been changed to 6 p.m., to provide everyone with the opportunity to attend and voice their concerns, district officials said.

The code drew more than 60 speakers last Tuesday night, most opposed to an included poster regarding LGBTQ students and how the district assures enumerated rights.

Attendees had one minute each to voice their concerns during the school board’s  public comment portion of the meeting,  with not all, including Lee County Commissioner Brian Hamman, who came   as a parent, having an opportunity to speak.

Before the public took to the microphone, Board Chair Debbie Jordan shared a message from the district, saying the policy is not new, and much of the concerns are coming from inaccurate information floating on social media.

“The School District of Lee County has been made aware of misinformation being shared on social media and via some local radio outlets in relations to the district Equality Florida Best Practices and Best Practices and Action Steps poster,” she said. “The district created the poster to educate stakeholders on the current national case law trend regarding LGBTQ students in our school setting.

“This includes providing students with access to restrooms and locker rooms that are consistent with their gender identity.

“The blanket idea that the district allows boys and girls to shower together, share the same locker room, or restroom is simply wrong. Indeed it is a violation of the code of conduct. Sensitive issues regarding LGBTQ matters are addressed and approved on an individual case-by-case basis. The district works with the students and the guardians and provides gender neutral private restrooms to any student.”

 In addition, the district does not have a “LGBTQ curriculum,” she said.

“We follow the Florida Next Generation Sunshine Standards as mandated by the Florida Department of Education, which includes curriculum in high schools, health class that touches on human sexuality and reproductive health. These lessons correspond to numerous state standards and students can opt out of this portion of health class. The district follows the Florida High School Athletic Association guidelines as it relates to gender and sports. We do our best to provide support to all, to all students and we listen to our community. The board does not have a new policy.”

The poster was included in a workshop presentation about legal issues and best practices LGBTQ+ on March 22. It is within the pages of the code of conduct and includes information regarding activities, dress code, restrooms, identity, pronouns, school functions, clubs, pride, gender expression, SDLC non-discrimination policies, gender expression, sexual orientation and gender identity.

Some concerns shared by the public revolved around the verbiage used under restrooms and pride.

The policy states, “All students are allowed to access the restrooms that are consistent with their gender identity, or be provided appropriate accommodations as requested. Accommodations are determined in collaboration with district staff on a case-by-case basis.”

The verbiage for pride states “all faculty, staff and students should feel empowered to be open about their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression at school.”

This verbiage had one mother share her concern with having a 6-year-old first grade student attend a school in the district.

“No one in this room has my permission to talk about your sexual orientation with my 6-year-year old daughter,” she said, adding that is a conversation that should be done in the privacy of her home.

Many others said that they are not giving the district consent to raise their child and the emotional, spiritual and physical health and safety of students and faculty is at risk under the code of conduct.

Others said they district need to leave sexuality to physicians and parents.

Superintendent Dr. Greg Adkins said during an earlier meeting that he wanted to assure the public that he did check with staff regarding restrooms.

“We don’t see this really going on in our buildings,” he said, adding that none of the current scenarios being painted are happening in Lee schools.

“There may be one out there they may not be aware of. Anything that would be an issue would be escalated to their level and they would be aware of it and let me know,” Adkins said of school staff.

Also at an earlier meeting Board member Chris Patricca reiterated what she shared at the March meeting.

“I do remember when we had the workshop a couple weeks ago . . . my daughter is a swimmer and a swimmer has to really change in the locker room. If there is a biological male that identifies as a female, will that student be permitted to change in the locker room with her? What if she feels uncomfortable? They told me she has to go somewhere else,” she said, adding that her daughter should not have to find somewhere else to change.

Such questions as how does the district decide on who gets accommodations for the restrooms was raised during public comment  Tuesday.

A North Fort Myers High School student spoke, saying he is genuinely terrified because of what parents think is happening in their schools. He said he went to school and was not indoctrinated with an ideology, or beaten over the head with liberal lies.

“I was simply at school,” he said. “There are things you might disagree with the code of conduct, but trust me it does not really matter in our experience.”

There were also a few supportive comments sprinkled in, as members of the public shared their thanks for protecting the safety of the LGBTQ students and staff under an “inclusive nondiscrimination policy.”

During a meeting the day prior, board members also voiced the concern that, although they voted on the code of conduct in June, they were not aware that the best practices and action steps poster was included.

Adkins said the board had a pre-briefing on May 5 and May 19 for the code of conduct pre-k through fifth grade and sixth through 12th. On June 2, there was a second briefing and a public hearing prior to approval.

Adkins said there was also stakeholder feedback received on Feb. 12 from student advisory input, as well as from Success Academy students on Feb. 21. In addition there was a community forum on March 2 at Cape Coral High School and another at Littleton Elementary. He said there were two additional events scheduled that had to be canceled due to the pandemic.

“There are no excuses for us. We read the material, we respond to the material,” Board member Cathleen O’Daniel Morgan said. “There is always a pre-briefing.”

Board member Melisa Giovannelli said the first time she knew about the poster was in October.

“I think we can do better. We should do better and we will do better in getting information out to the community. It is vital that we make a difference and do what’s right. Our integrity went out the window with that poster,” she said.