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Palm Coast Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021 5 months ago

New law establishing 'Parents' Bill of Rights' prompts changes at Flagler Schools

The legislation does not require school staff to 'out' LGBT students to their parents — unless the student's LGBT status is mentioned in their cumulative file, and a parent requests the file.
by: Jonathan Simmons News Editor

A new "Parents' Bill of Rights" approved by the Florida Legislature in its last session codifies parents' and guardians' rights to students' school-related records, prompting Flagler Schools to adjust its procedures and guidance to staff regarding what student information can be revealed.

School district attorney Kristy Gavin briefed School Board members on a dozen legislation-prompted district policy or procedure changes during a School Board workshop Aug. 3, but the Parents' Bill of Rights prompted the most discussion because of its potential impact on LGBT students. 

The law states that "important information relating to a minor child should not be withheld, either inadvertently or purposefully, from the parent, including information relating to the minor child’s health, well-being, and education" — language that, on its face, could be interpreted as requiring school staff to "out" gay or transgender students to their parents against the students' wishes.

The bill had been opposed by LGBT organizations that feared it would press schools to reveal students' gender identities or sexual orientation to unaccepting families.

Although the bill's sponsors, responding to that criticism, had said that the purpose of the bill was simply to compile laws already established elsewhere, the school district is tweaking its guidance to the staff members to whom students are most likely to come out — for instance, guidance counselors. 

If a student reveals their sexual orientation or gender identity to a school counselor, Gavin explained to School Board members, the counselor would not necessarily be required, under the new law, to pass that information along to parents. If the guidance counselor creates no documents associated with that information, Gavin said, "there’s nothing to report to a parent.”

But a district staff member would also not be faulted for revealing that information to a student's parents if the staff member considers it relevant to the student's welfare, Gavin said.

If the staff member considers the student's LGBT status relevant but the student does not want it shared with their parents, the staff member is encouraged to offer to help facilitate a conversation between the student and parents.

However, there is a circumstance in which staff members would be required to reveal a student's LGBT status: if a parent requests the student's cumulative file, and the student's LGBT identity is somehow mentioned in the student's file.

That could happen, for instance, if a transgender student asks to go by a new name or pronoun in class and requests a guidance counselor's assistance with planning the change: The guidance counselor's written communications with other staff members about the student's request would become part of the student's releasable file.

Gavin also briefed the board about new legislation requiring a moment of silence at the beginning of each school day, a tweak to the wording in schools' emergency plans — language referring a potential "active shooter" is being changed to "active assailant" — and adjustments to internal staff-related procedures, such as those surrounding termination and the state's retirement program for school teachers. 


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