Lee County teachers weigh in on gender support plan

Reporter: Gail Levy
Published: Updated:

Lee County school board members and support staff cheered on teachers as they welcomed them during a special event on Wednesday morning.

This comes as the district considers changes to a policy like requiring a signed form if a student wants to change their gender identity at school.

WINK News spoke with three first-year teachers who all said they plan to keep their personal opinions out of their lesson plans.

When Gov. Ron Desantis signed the Parental Rights bill, also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, he said: “We not only know that parents have a right to be involved, we insist that parents have a right to be involved.”

That right to be involved birthed a draft version of Lee County school district’s Civil Rights and Equity Guide.

The guide starts with a non-discrimination policy and jumps to religious expression and freedoms before getting to the gender support plan.

“Names and pronouns. Students under 18 need parental permission,” said Chris Patricca, a school board member.

That is correct.

If a student wants to use a different bathroom or locker room, go by a different pronoun or want their teacher to call them by a different gender-affirming name, the support plan needs the signature of a parent.

“I understand the parents want to be involved in the child’s schoolwork. But this is not schoolwork. This is a personal life,” said Arlene Goldberg, the co-founder of Visuality, a center for the LGBTQ community. “She told me getting a parent to sign those papers means a child has to come out at home and they may not be ready to do that.”

WINK News asked teachers new to Lee County schools how they will handle the situation.

“You know, we just respect their views and want the parents, so we just go with what they want,” said Tarrita Brown, who will be teaching at Cypress Lakes High School.

Gabriel Hillman, who will teach at North Fort Myers High School, said he will leave it in the hands of the district and the teachers and the parents.

“Our work is not done with this guide,” said Lee County School Superintendent Christopher Bernier. “This is an avenue and a manner and means which has to be consistently revisited.”

The district said they will handle each situation on a case-by-case basis.

But at least one school board member thinks this plan doesn’t go far enough.

For example: homecoming and prom.

“I find electing a king and queen to be extremely outdated and sexist,” said Lee County school board member Betsy Vaughn.

Filling out the gender support plan is voluntary and a student would not have to fill out the entire survey. The district said the answers would remain confidential. However, a parent needs to sign off.

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