JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A 37-page document, which describes itself as “a critical tool at a critical time,” is now under intense scrutiny within Duval County Public Schools.
The DCPS LGBTQ+ Support Guide outlines the district’s procedures for employees to support and protect members of that community. The guide was produced by the district’s Department of Health Education & Physical Education and the Office of Equity & Inclusion. The guide is not considered district policy, but rather only a set of established guidelines.
While the guidelines remain in effect, a new version of the document is being drafted and will soon be submitted to the Duval County School Board for review. The update is in response to the passage of the controversial “Parental Rights in Education” law, which critics have branded the “Don’t Say Gay” policy.
The document covers the current federal, state and local laws and ordinances that dictate how schools should handle school-based scenarios where LGBTQ issues might arise including restroom use, names, pronouns, overnight field trips, dress codes, prom events, inclusive language and many other topics.
“This Guide will support our educational community in fulfilling the rights each of us has to be affirmed, protected, and respected,” a preface authored by superintendent Dr. Dianas Greene said. “This Guide will also support the responsibility we have to be affirming, protective and respectful of our students.”
Greene’s full statement as written in the support guide can be read below:
“Regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, every student should feel safe in every one of our schools every day. These are rights that are protected by our School Board policies and rights that affirm our commitment to mental health and academic wellness. Environments that are safe, welcoming and inclusive increase morale, motivation and learning for all students on our campuses.
Parents and caregivers send their children to school with the expectation they will be free from harassment, bullying and discrimination. To that end, we have policies and procedures in place to protect our students from discrimination, harassment, sexual harassment or retaliation. We all deserve to feel comfortable expressing our identities.
Still, local, regional and national surveys show that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ+) students continually experience verbal and physical harassment or threats, resulting in absenteeism, failure in school, depression, and even suicidal ideation. Although progress has been made to bring attention to some of the negative outcomes for LGBTQ+ students, there is still room to grow.
That is why we are presenting the Duval County Public School’s LGBTQ+ Support Guide. This Guide will support our educational community in fulfilling the rights each of us has to be affirmed, protected, and respected. This Guide will also support the responsibility we have to be affirming, protective and respectful of our students.
Thank you for being an integral part of our commitment to excellence reflected in the success of every student – wherever she may come from, however he identifies, whoever they want to be.”Dr. Diana Greene, superintendent, Duval County Public Schools
The document was thrust back into the spotlight when the “parental right” law was signed by the governor. Set to take effect on July 1, the law limits how the topics of gender identity and sexual orientation are taught in Florida schools and outright bans all instruction of those topics in Kindergarten through 3rd grade.
In April, DCPS board member Charlotte Joyce filed a resolution that would, among other things, strike certain phrases from the guide that deal with parental communication.
Joyce’s resolution specifically identified the phrase, “it is never appropriate to divulge the sexual orientation of a student to a parent,” as a guideline that violates the “parental rights” law, which expressly states that parents are to be notified “if there is a change in the student’s services or monitoring related to the student’s mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being and the school’s ability to provide a safe and supportive learning environment for the student.”
However, Joyce’s resolution did not include the full sentence which reads: “With the very limited exception involving the imminent fear of physical harm, it is never appropriate to divulge the sexual orientation of a student to a parent.”
The main messaging from the DeSantis Administration has been that the law is meant to allow parents to have full control over any conversations about gender identity and sexual orientation with their children, claiming it’s a means of protecting children from “indoctrination.”
“We will make sure that parents can send their kids to school to get an education, not an indoctrination,” DeSantis said before he signed the measure on March 28.
Meanwhile, the DCPS Support Guide acknowledges that some LGBTQ young people are prone to suffering rejection and/or abuse at home.
“Unfortunately, LGBTQ+ youth may experience parental rejection and/or abuse because of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” the guide said. “The degree to which teachers and administrators need to be sensitive about this issue, cannot be overstated. In short, it is a compliment when a student trusts you enough to come out to you. It is up to you to prove yourself worthy of that trust.”
The guide clearly emphasizes the importance of protecting children from bullying, harassment, and discrimination based on their gender identity or sexual orientation, even if the source of those tribulations is in their own home.
Conservative lawmakers, pundits and anti-LGBTQ activists have argued that LGBTQ rights advocation is a form of “grooming” or “sexualization” of minors, -- although these arguments disregard the difference between a person’s sexual orientation and their sexual activity.
The support guide includes a one-page list of “action steps” which provides key definitions, resources and a list of the main action steps DCPS employees are to follow. one of the steps is labeled “identity” and says: “All LGBTQ+ students have the right to decide when and to whom their gender identity and sexual orientation is shared, including to a student’s family.”
The document clearly indicates that the working philosophy of Duval County Public Schools is that each individual, including a student, should be protected from harm and that their right to individuality and control over their own identity are among the most important to preserve.
News4JAX requested a copy of the updated draft of the LGBTQ Support Guide from DCPS and this article will be updated when that document is obtained. A district spokesperson did not have any information on a timeline for when the new draft of the guide would be presented for the board’s approval.