Sarasota County schools now have new policies in place for gay and transgender students. The sudden announcement was met with controversy.

Lily Karins came to Booker High School because she didn’t feel accepted at her previous school. She feels its one of the best decisions she ever made.

“I can be secure in the fact that there are people like me and that I won’t have to do any fighting with administration for any rights or privileges,” said Karins.

“When I came here and there was all this, you can be a ‘prom royal’ instead of a prom king or queen…it was a nice change for me.”

She wants others to feel comfortable in their schools as well, so she’s ecstatic that Sarasota County Schools have implemented new LGBT student guidelines.

“It’s real and it’s tangible change. And it’s nice to see that,” said Karins.

“In a time like this where there’s so much debate over just about every little thing, especially on something controversial like this, when we have guidelines laid down, that means there’s something set in stone.” 

The guidelines direct schools on how to create safe, inclusive environments for all students. It addresses a number of issues ranging from bathrooms to locker rooms to overnight field trips.

Superintendent Dr. Todd Bowden discussed the policies with principals and the guidelines are now in effect.

“What I want our public to know is these kids are real, they’re in our schools and we need to make sure that we treat them with the passion they deserve so they can be as successful as their peers,” said Dr. Bowden.

On Tuesday, school board chair Bridget Ziegler expressed concerns over language stating a child can claim a gender identity without parental involvement.

“That to me is just alarming, alarming, alarming,” said Ziegler.

“For me as a parent and as a board member, that alarmed me significantly, we need parent engagement at all levels, but if we’re talking about something as serious as this, this absolutely has to include parents at the table.”

In response, Dr. Bowden said, “I think it’s really important that we respect that it’s a student’s story to tell and we don’t want to be in the business of outing students.” 

Vanessa Nichols has a transgender 9-year-old. 

“If parents are not accepting, we’re still talking about creating a safe environment in schools so I don’t think that parental involvement is always necessary,” said Nichols.

Ziegler was also concerned that public discussion was not held over the creation of the guidelines. The new rules were compiled by a task force that researched procedures in place across Florida and the country.

“It blindsided me because we haven’t really had this conversation, I can only imagine what it would do to families,” said Ziegler.

“I think there’s been a number of public discussions on this topic,” said Dr. Bowden.

“This document does not change the practices of our district. It just commits those practices to writing.”

Nichols says these guidelines were needed.

“There’s nothing to be afraid of. Equal rights for our trans kids doesn’t mean less rights for anybody else,” said Nichols.

“This isn’t a new topic, this has been around since the beginning of time but now that we’re creating safer spaces and safer conversations, we need the schools to come on board to create that safe space so they can learn.”

Karins is thrilled for the future.

“Some of my friends who have younger siblings are excited for the world that they will get to grow up in rather than the world even that we did, five years older,” said Karins.

Dr. Bowden stresses that there are no plans to hold any public discussion on the new guidelines. However, he does add that the guidelines are fluid and can be changed if any issues are brought up by school staff or students.

“This is still an evolving issue at the federal level, there are still court cases that may change the practice of school districts across the country to include Sarasota, so yes, this document will evolve over time,” said Dr. Bowden.

School board chair Bridget Ziegler plans to share her concerns about these guidelines at an upcoming school board meeting on Nov. 6th.