Parents attack, defend Sarasota schools LGBT guidelines

Sarasota County

Newly-adopted guidelines for LGBT students in Sarasota schools created hours of debate at Tuesday’s school board meeting. 

Superintendent Dr. Todd Bowden insists these guidelines are not new, just newly put in writing, and that the district has informally implemented the procedures for years. Still, three hours worth of parents signed up to speak, all with strong, very divided opinions.

Last month, the district adopted gender-diverse student guidelines that direct schools on how address issues including bathrooms, locker rooms, and overnight field trips for LGBT students. The guidance also allows kids to choose the name and gender they identify with at school, no parent input needed. 

“We have to air on the side of caution,” explained Dr. Rachel Shelley, principal of Booker High School who served on the task force that drafted the directive. “Making sure [all students] are safe, protected, valued and appreciated.” 

Some parents argued Tuesday before the school board that the lack of notification infringed on parental rights. Others disagreed with the guidelines altogether, including allowing transgender kids to choose which bathrooms and locker rooms they were comfortable with. 

“I’m sorry, I don’t want a young man in there with my daughter,” said Traci Williams, who signed up to speak at the meeting. 

Others thanked the district for protecting LGBT kids, including protection from outing them to parents who may not accept their child’s situation. 

“Our transgender kids just want equity in the schools,” said Vanessa Nichols, the mother of a transgender fourth grader. 

Regardless of attacks or praise from parents, the superintendent’s message remained to his students:

“You do not need permission from your parents, or anyone else, to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersex, or asexual,” Dr. Bowden announced. 

Tuesday’s heated discussion concluded with a failed motion by the board’s chair to bring the parental notification issue back for school board consideration. 

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