Sarasota Schools quietly change gender identity, sexuality guidelines to require parental consent

Sarasota Herald-Tribune | By Steven Walker | August 16, 2022

If a Sarasota County Schools student tells a teacher or administrator they are gay, have preferred pronouns or a different preferred name, the staff member must now notify the parents under a new policy, according to district guidance sent to teachers ahead of the school year. 

The new guidance represents a shift from the district’s previous stance on gender identity, which stated it was “up to the student, and the student alone, to share her/his/their identity.” At the time in that policy was adopted in late 2018, School Board member Bridget Ziegler proposed an amendment to require parental notification and consent, but it failed by a 3-2 vote.

“If a student tells us that (they) are gay/gender questioning/trans, etc parent must be notified,” the revised guidance reads.

The change came about because of the Parental Rights in Education Act, dubbed “Don’t Say Gay” by critics, which was signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis and became law July 1, said Ziegler. 

Photo of the Sarasota School Student Services Best Practices guidance shared with teachers and administrators ahead of the 2022-23 school year. Courtesy Photo

“The school district wants, needs, and encourages parental participation – parental support is necessary to achieve optimal student outcomes,” the district wrote in a statement.

Ziegler, who chaired the School Board in 2018, called the change a win for everyone. She has campaigned on parental rights in education and was involved in the Parents Bill of Rights, a law signed by DeSantis in 2021 protecting parents’ rights in the raising of their children and a precursor to the Parental Rights in Education Act. She said the policy now represents what the public overwhelmingly wants, and was necessary because a student’s gender identity involves registration records and how a student uses the school’s different facilities.

“The change is a win for parents, students, teachers and allows for the integrity of our public education institutions to be restored,” Ziegler said.

She acknowledged that some students might not feel comfortable with their parents being notified. If a student feels unsafe, there are systems in place with the district as mandatory reporters to the Florida Department of Children and Families, she said.

“What if a child was saying, ‘Hey, my parents are really strict, I’m afraid to tell them that I got a suspension.’ Why is it different? It’s not,” Ziegler said.

Jane Goodwin, who currently chairs the board, said she’s opposed to the change. She referenced increased suicide rates among LGBTQ+ youth, and said there should be situations where a parent is not involved and a teacher is a confidant for a student.

“We’re at a precipice in not being able to support students as we have done in the past, which I thought was done in a good way, in a kind way, in a thoughtful way, in a way that protected students and kept them safe,” Goodwin said.

Goodwin said she did not expect the board to discuss the change in guidelines at its meeting Tuesday.

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