School board examines LGBTQ+ guide draft 

Anntwanique Edwards said the new LGBTQ+ Support Guide is brief but clear at Tuesday's school board meeting.
Anntwanique Edwards said the new LGBTQ+ Support Guide is brief but clear at Tuesday's school board meeting.
Photo by Glory Reitz

The School Board of Alachua County looked over a draft of the district’s updated LGBTQ+ Support Guide in its regular meeting on Tuesday. 

The board had requested the updated guide in an Aug. 15 meeting, after members and supporters of the LGBTQ+ community flooded the Aug. 1 meeting to ask for clarity on how Alachua County Public Schools would apply several new state laws covering gender and sexuality in schools. 

Anntwanique Edwards, chief of equity, inclusion and community engagement, said the new 19-page guide is brief, but clear in its intentionality and how it addresses and interprets state statute. 

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Edwards also clarified multiple times that the guide is still in its draft form and is undergoing constant changes. Staff were still making edits a few hours before the meeting, and they plan to change more. 

Board member Sarah Rockwell had given staff several recommended changes to the guide before the meeting, and she had more questions and clarifications during the meeting. 

The guide addresses student privacy, names and pronouns, classroom instruction, field trips, restrooms and locker rooms, dress codes, Gay/Straight Alliance clubs, and athletics. Its mission statement states that it hopes to make schools safer for LGBTQ+ students by creating a “school environment that fosters inclusion, values diversity, and protects the rights of all of its students… with a process that centers the role of the parent toward open communication toward their child.” 

Almost a dozen citizens came to the meeting to provide input on the guide, most thanking the board for their work and introducing suggested edits. 

“As a parent, I of course want my child to tell me everything,” Traci Amberbride, a lesbian mother, told the board. “I want my schools to tell me things, but I think it’s really important to recognize that if a parent has to come to the school to find out if their kid is gay, or trans or nonbinary, that there is a problem to take heed of. That that child has already thought for some reason it’s not OK to come out to their parent or their guardian at this point in time.” 

For the first time since the board began discussing an updated LGBTQ+ guide, community members voiced concerns over the guide’s sentiments. 

George Dix, a local pastor, told the board he respected the delicacy of the situation, but asked for the community to consider the guide prayerfully. 

“As parents, and as a community, we have the obligation to make the hard decisions to do what is right in the sight of God,” Dix said. “Frankly, it doesn’t matter what my opinion is. It matters what is right, and I believe the Bible is right.” 

Another community member called in to protest the inclusion of “Gender Queer: a Memoir” being available to students. On the advice of board attorney David Delaney, staff cut the caller short when she tried to read an excerpt from the book. 

Delaney explained there is a new Florida statute prohibiting anyone who is not a district parent from reading classroom materials at a meeting. The caller had not provided that information at that time, but she called back at the end of the meeting, identifying herself as a parent named Lauren. Delaney also clarified that the caller’s input was not related to the LGBTQ+ guide, for which public comment was open at the time. 

Staff will continue to revise the guide to make it a functioning operational document, not a board policy, also at Delaney’s recommendation. By keeping the document as a guide, staff will be able to work with the community outside of noticed board meetings to refine it, and will not need to follow the rule-making process of coming to the board for first and second readings. 

The board also welcomed Susan Seigle as the district’s new staff attorney on Tuesday. The position had previously been unfilled, and staff had leaned on the board’s attorney for help. 

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