Legislation Causes Confusion Among School Officials

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — The Alachua County school district is in the midst of reviewing its LGBTQ critical support guide to fall in line with new state regulations that took effect last month.

The move comes after the Florida State Board of Education unanimously approved a new rule that says parents must be fully informed of how bathrooms, locker rooms and dressing rooms are designated and supervised, which includes whether the rooms are gender-neutral or will be separated by someone’s biological sex.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed House Bill 1557 on Oct. 19. Though the legislation is dubbed “Parental Rights in Education,” opponents commonly refer to it as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

Equality Florida spokesperson Brandon Wolf said the new rule targets transgender youth.

“The way the Department of Education in this new rule-making process has taken aim at the transgender community is not by barring access to those bathrooms or locker rooms, but instead trying to bully school districts into reconsidering those policies,” Wolf said.

The state’s education website states that the law is intended to protect students’ safety and “the fundamental rights of parents” to know how the rooms are utilized. It goes on to say the change “ensures that full transparency to enhance the health, safety and welfare of students when utilizing bathrooms and locker rooms and parental rights.”

Affecting Alachua County

The Alachua County school district doesn’t currently notify parents whether their children use bathrooms associated with their gender identity. Students are allowed access to restrooms and locker rooms that align with their gender identity, or they must be given appropriate accommodations.

Under the new state guidelines, spokeswoman Jackie Johnson said Alachua County Public Schools is technically in violation, but unsure how.

“We haven’t heard since what is the specific issue with our particular guide,” she said. “But in the meantime, we’re still looking at ours and reviewing it to see if any changes need to be made.”

The legislation isn’t the only change classrooms are facing this year.

House bills 7 and 1467, also signed by DeSantis in October, censored and got rid of textbooks that discussed critical race theory and prevented the discussion of gender identity in classrooms.

In September, district officials said the law changes would not have much of an impact on students or classrooms, but the confusion appears to counter that notion.

School board chair Rob Hyatt said the switches are just another set of hurdles for LGBTQ students to overcome that don’t need to be in place.

“My thought is that we should protect all children and all families and having not studied this rule it sounds pretty bad and that we seem to be taking steps backward,” Hyatt said.

Hyatt, who leaves office later this month, said the policy change will be something the incoming school board will have to navigate.

School board member-elect Sarah Rockwell said the state has been silent on how districts should move forward despite the change and hopes to soon have some direction on the issue.

“I will vote in the way that I think will be least harmful to our LGBTQ plus students and staff members,” she said.