ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. — (Note: The video above is from a related story.)
Teachers now must notify parents before using a student’s requested name or gender pronouns, according to a policy adopted by St. Johns County Schools.
The school district says the new policy was created to conform to the Parents Bill of Rights, signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis in July. The bill does not specifically address gender identity, but broadly asserts a parent’s right to access “important information relating to a minor child” and requires “a consistent mechanism for parents to be notified of information relating to the health and well-being of their minor children.”
The parental notification requirement is part of a one-sheet created by the school district entitled, “Guidelines for LGBTQ students-Follow Best Practices,” lists several categories, ranging from Gay/Straight Alliance clubs (which are permitted) to Bullying (which is not).
According to the “Names and Pronouns” section, “schools will use the name and gender pronoun corresponding to his/her consistently asserted gender identity upon request of the student with knowledge of the parent.”
The one-sheet also has a section entitled “Coming Out,” which says the school district will “not try to silence students who are open about their sexual orientation or transgender identity” unless it “causes substantial disruption with the school’s work or material interference with school activities; impinges upon the rights of other students to be secure and let alone; or the school reasonably forecasts it will cause a substantial disruption with the school’s work or material interference with school activities.”
The one-sheet does not indicate who determines what constitutes a "substantial disruption."
It also does not say whether every teacher that supervises a student must notify parents about their requested name or gender identity, or if a single notification is sufficient. It’s not clear if parents must be notified in cases where students have already used a preferred name or pronoun for some time.
In response to questions from First Coast News, SJC school district spokesperson Christina Upchurch said, “The change was made to be in alignment with the Parents Bill of Rights, Florida Statute 1014.04. No, the School Board did not vote to send out this guidance. It was discussed with principals, school social workers, school counselors and district mental health counselors by our Associate Superintendent for Student Support Services recently.”
Attorney Jimmy Midyette, who worked to pass Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance and serves as North Florida Development Officer for Equality Florida, believes the new guidance is harmful to students in an already vulnerable place.
"The reality is that LGBTQ youth are at a pretty high risk of having an adverse event at home, that would put them at risk for being homeless. A lot of young people run away when they don't have a supportive family and get into trouble that you can imagine kids on the street would get into. So it's really self defeating. If the purpose is to protect children, protect young people, this very, very, very possibly will have the, the opposite result."
First Coast News reached out to Duval and Clay county schools to see if they have or plan to implement similar policies and will update this story with that information.
You can read the new guidelines here.