PASCO COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — Pasco County Schools Superintendent Kurt Browning has ordered the removal of “safe space” stickers in all district schools. The stickers are typically used by staff to show students who are members of the LGBTQ community that they won’t be targeted or in danger in those areas. A published site from the school district says the order is to comply with Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
According to a page on the Pasco County Schools website, the district said they will not be “utilizing” the safe space stickers any more, and their displays will not be permitted.
Specifically, the page says the stickers must be removed to “comply with recent legislation.” The legislation in question is the much-discussed House Bill 1557, titled “Parental Rights in Education,” and called the “Don’t Say Gay Bill” by its detractors and opponents.
The district statement on the sticker removal starts off saying that the school district “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.”
To that end, the school district said they must ensure that actions the district takes comply with legislation and are “not misinterpreted as a wavering in our commitment.”
Going further, the statement continues that “due to recent legislation concerning parental rights, 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, staff are not to provide any materials to students that would impact a parents right to direct the upbringing, moral training, religious training, education, and care of their minor children.”
The statement includes an explanation that having the stickers on display would potentially require notification to parents about a change in student services or monitoring of a student’s mental, emotional, or physical health and well-being. The school is now required by law to provide information about those changes to parents under HB 1557, even if the student requests it remain confidential, with slim exceptions in the case of potential harm to a student as a result of the disclosure to their parents.
WFLA.com received a copy of a memo sent to district administration and staff regarding the stickers. While much of the email was the same as the published page on the Pasco Schools site, it included the following additional note from Browning, though the text is still similar to part of the published site guidance.
“It is in the best interests of the district, teachers, and students that we comply with the recent legislation,” Browning wrote to staff in the memo. “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.”
Additionally, the statement on the school district site expresses concern over potential litigation, which the newly enacted law opened for parents, as well as a concern that the stickers may imply to students that what they say to staff may not be disclosed to parents, which the district says is not the case. The superintendent’s email echoes similar language.
“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,” the district statement reads. “Therefore, it is in the best interests of the district, teachers, and students that we comply with the recent legislation, and also communicate clearly that we support our students and that all our campuses are safe places.”