Pasco schools ban ‘safe space’ stickers that show support for LGBTQ students
District officials said Florida’s new ‘parental rights in education’ law prompted the change.
Tampa Bay Times | By Jeffrey S. Solochek | September 1, 2022
LAND O’LAKES — In a widely anticipated move, Pasco County superintendent Kurt Browning on Thursday instructed employees to remove “safe space” stickers from all schools.
The stickers typically have rainbow designs and indicate support for LGBTQ students.
Citing Florida’s new “parental rights in education” law, Browning noted in his memo to staff that schools are now required to inform parents of any changes to their children’s services or monitoring related to the mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being.
The “safe space” stickers often carry the perception that children might say things to teachers or other trusted school workers that will not be repeated, school district spokesperson Steve Hegarty said.
“We are not doing that,” Hegarty said, adding that the action was intended to eliminate confusion on that point for both students and employees. “We don’t want there to be any misunderstandings.”
Over the past few years, the district has faced criticism from community members about the stickers. Some residents have told the School Board as recently as Tuesday that the stickers appear to offer special services to certain students, most often in the LGBTQ community, and provide cover for educators to hide information from parents.
Parent Tori Tiffany raised the issue with the board this week, demanding to know, “What exactly is a safe space? Shouldn’t the entire school be a safe space?”
In his memo staff, Browning stated that schools should be safe places for all students, with or without stickers. He pointed to the district’s policies on anti-bullying, anti-harassment and nondiscrimination as ways in which schools will be expected to protect all students’ rights and to “promote and maintain a tolerant and diverse educational environment.
Pasco County Schools has a diverse population of students, staff, and parents, and as a school district we respect and support the diversity of views and lifestyle choices. It is important that we make our support evident in policy and in practice, and that we reiterate our commitment to supporting all students.
Recent legislation requires that we notify parents whenever there is a change in a 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.
There is a concern that a student’s presence in a designated “safe space” could trigger a duty for Pasco County Schools staff to notify a parent of a potential change in their child’s well-being. There also is a concern that a student might mistakenly believe that a conversation in a designated “space” will not be disclosed to their parent, which could be in violation of the law. Given the difficulty of determining whether a student’s presence in a limited, designated “safe space” location is as an indicator of a student’s emotional or mental well-being, our district will discontinue the utilization of such limited spaces to avoid misinterpretation and a potential violation of the law. Under the new legislation, a parent may bring an action in court for “damages. . . attorney fees and court costs” stemming from a violation of these parental rights.
Therefore, our school district will no longer utilize “safe spaces” and will no longer display “safe space” stickers. The “safe space” stickers will be removed, as they have become a flashpoint that distracts from our goals of creating a school-wide and districtwide safe environment. Additionally, to ensure compliance with recent legislation, staff are not to provide any materials to students that would impact a parent’s right to direct the upbringing, moral training, religious training, and care of their minor children.
It is in the best interests of the district, teachers, and students that we comply with the recent legislation. And it is in everyone’s best interest that we communicate clearly that we support all our students and that all areas of our campuses are safe places.
To promote and maintain a tolerant and diverse educational environment, our students, staff, and parents must continue to comply with Pasco County Schools’ prohibition against discrimination, harassment, and bullying. Please review SB Policies 5517 (Anti-Harassment), 5517.01 (Anti-Bullying), and 2260 (Non-Discrimination), or contact your school administrator for additional information regarding the enforcement of the above-listed policies. Doing so will promote a safe and healthy learning environment where all our students and staff, regardless of individual belief systems, can gather for the purposes of obtaining a world class education. All questions regarding this should be directed to this link.
Kurt S. Browning
Pasco County Superintendent of Schools