LAND O’ LAKES — In a widely anticipated move, Pasco County Superintendent Kurt Browning instructed employees on Thursday to remove “safe place” stickers from all schools.

The stickers are typically rainbow colored to show support for LGBTQ students. Some of them included the Pasco County Schools logo and were paid for by the district.

Citing Florida’s new “Parents’ Rights in Education” law, Browning said in a note to staff that schools now no longer offer services or He said parents should be notified of changes in supervision.

Related: Florida’s New Custody Law Frustrates, But Not Upsets These Teachers

School district spokesman Steve Hegerty said the “safe place” stickers include an awareness that children may say the same to teachers and other trusted school officials. often

“We’re not doing that,” said Hegarty, adding that the measures are intended to clear up confusion for both students and employees. “I don’t want to be misunderstood.”

He added that removing the stickers the district once provided marks a change in Florida’s political environment. The law was criticized by detractors who claim that Gov. Ron DeSantis and Congress are targeting his LGBTQ residents in Florida as a way to revitalize the right-wing base as a means to “not say gay.” been ridiculed.

It opens the way for parents to sue schools for not meeting the requirements. But many of those mandates remain vague, prompting school districts to act more cautiously, according to Andrea Messina, executive director of the Florida Association of School Boards.

Duval and Orange counties are also calling for the removal of safe space stickers.

“With the encouragement of litigation in the statute, the district is working as aggressively as possible to avoid liability,” Messina said. “They don’t want to misrepresent their expectations…they may not make it to the end.”

Over the past few years, the Pasco district has been criticized by members of the community for the stickers. Some residents recently told the school board on Tuesday that the stickers appear to provide a special service to certain students, and are mostly in the LGBTQ community, for educators to hide information from parents. He said he was offering a cover.

Parent Tori Tiffany posed the question to the board this week, asking, “What exactly is a safe place? Shouldn’t the entire school be a safe place?”

Kurt Browning
Kurt Browning [ Pasco County Schools ]

In a note to staff, Browning said schools should be safe places for all students, with or without stickers. It pointed to the school district’s anti-bullying, anti-harassment, and anti-discrimination policies as ways it is expected to “promote and maintain an inclusive and diverse educational environment.”

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Others saw the movements differently. Brandon Wolfe, spokesperson for LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Florida, lamented the district’s ban. Wolff said LGBTQ youth are more likely to face depression, anxiety, bullying and violence than other generations, and that removing the stickers does nothing.

“The Pasco County School District bowed to the governor’s political will, removing safe space stickers from schools and sending a direct message to students that being LGBTQ should be shamed and hidden,” Wolff said. said in a text message. “Superintendent Browning has expressed his goal of creating a safe environment throughout the school district. But the reality is that this is not the case for his vulnerable LGBTQ youth.”

Emma Cohen, who graduated from Sunlake High School in the spring, also criticized the decision. I was.

“This is another sign that inclusivity is just a word for them,” Cohen said.

Cohen said removing the stickers doesn’t change the fact that kids know which teacher is helping. However, they were concerned that the school district’s measures could discourage some supportive educators from getting jobs, which could have a negative impact on students.

Teacher David Berger, who is gay, sponsors the Gay Straight Alliance at Land O Lakes High. He said there were no clear signs of a safe space for students who might not be safe.

Related: Florida’s new ‘custody’ law means more paperwork for Pasco’s parents

Berger said removing the stickers doesn’t change the positive impression teachers have of their students, but it sends a negative signal to the community. He rejected the view that “every space in a school is safe” as a cliché akin to saying “all lives matter”.

That would be ideal, Berger said. “But we know that’s not the case. So we need stickers in the first place.”

Cathy Julian, leader of the conservative Pasco Watch Group, called the decision “incredibly good.” Julien, often a district critic, said the administration had made the right move.

“I think school should be a safe place,” she said. “I don’t think it is necessary to select students based on their characteristics.”

Below is the text of Browning’s email to all administrators and educational staff on Thursday.

Pasco County Schools has a diverse group of students, staff and parents, and as a school district we value and support diverse opinions and lifestyle choices. It is important to articulate our support in policy and practice and reiterate our commitment to supporting all students.

Recent legislation has made changes to student services or monitoring related to the mental, emotional, or physical health and well-being of students and the ability of schools to provide students with a safe and supportive learning environment. In all cases, it is obligatory to notify parents.

There are concerns that having students in designated “safe areas” may create an obligation for Pasco County school staff to notify parents of potential changes in their children’s health. Students may also misunderstand that conversations in designated “spaces” are not open to parents, which may be against the law. Because it is difficult to determine whether a student’s presence in a designated, confined “safe space” location is an indicator of a student’s emotional or mental well-being, the district should To avoid the possibility, stop using such limited space. of law. Under the new law, parents can sue in court for “damages.” . Attorneys’ fees and court costs resulting from violations of these parental rights.”

Therefore, our school district will no longer use “Safe Space” and will no longer display the “Safe Space” sticker. “Safe Place” stickers will be removed because they have become a flashpoint that distracts from our goal of creating a safe environment throughout our school and district. Additionally, to ensure compliance with recent laws, staff should ensure that students do not receive materials that may affect the upbringing, moral training, religious training, and parental rights of parents to direct the care of minor children. should not be provided to

It is in the district’s, teachers’ and students’ best interests that we comply with the latest laws. And it is in everyone’s best interest that we support all students and make it clear that all areas of campus are safe places.

To promote and maintain an inclusive and diverse educational environment, students, staff, and parents must continue to comply with Pasco County Schools prohibitions against discrimination, harassment, and bullying. Please review SB Policies 5517 (Anti-Harassment), 5517.01 (Anti-Bullying) and 2260 (Non-Discrimination) or contact your school administrator for additional information regarding the enforcement of the above policies. Doing so promotes a safe and healthy learning environment where all students and staff can come together for the purpose of receiving a world-class education, regardless of individual belief systems. Any questions regarding this this link.

Kurt S. Browning

Pasco County Superintendent of Education

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