School districts will have to notify parents if students rooming together during overnight field trips will be separated according to the sex assigned to them at birth under a new state rule, raising alarm bells for LGBTQ+ advocates worried about transgender students.
At issue are concerns about district access to a student’s private information regarding gender identities and even personal medical history.
How do school districts know whether they have a transgender student? More so, does the rule infringe on the privacy of Florida’s public school students, most of whom are minors?
Lakey Love, co-founder of the Florida Coalition for Transgender Liberation, called the rule “government-sanctioned hate and exclusion and dehumanization.”
“This provision is basically outing a child to all of the parents and will inevitably create not only a lack of privacy for the students who are already out and who have transitioned … but it also isolates them,” said Love, who is nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns.
Overnight field trips
On Aug. 17, the Board of Education voted to approve the new rule that deals with information and definitions related to “overnight lodging” and field trips. And just Friday, the department sent a memo to school district Superintendents to update them on the requirement.
The rule tells districts to require parents to sign permission forms for field trips that includes certain information, such as the “nature of the field trip,” modes of transportation, and locations to be visited. Also required is information about whether “room assignments for overnight lodging are not separated by biological sex at birth.”
Overnight lodging “must include accommodations or modifications in order to ensure that all eligible students have the opportunity to participate in the field trip,” but the rule does not say what those accommodations should look like.
The rule comes at a time when various arms of the DeSantis administration work to limit the freedoms of transgender kids.
“Transgender” refers to those students who may have been assigned female or male at birth but do not identify with the social roles associated with those terms.
There may be some difficulties implementing the new rule about overnight field trips. For example: How will districts verify that their students are being separated into groups that match with their assigned sex at birth? Will a district knows who their transgender students are?
“If you’re having to transition in a public-school setting, or in a school setting, it’s obvious that you’re going to need help,” Love said.
“If you transitioned in middle school, you go to a new high school and your parents have helped you legally transition, meaning your name and gender markers have changed. … The school wouldn’t know that you’ve transitioned,” they added.
“The only reason for a school to know that you’re transgender is you’re in the process of transitioning and you need the school’s support of that transition.”
“Parents’ rights” and LGBTQ+ policies
Love cast the rule within a larger context of legislation and other department rules that target transgender students.
The overnight field trip rule was adopted the same day that the State Board of Education indicated that it wanted to review district policies about LGBTQ+ students.
State education board member Ryan Petty asked that the Department of Education “collect any LGBTQ+ support guides given to students teachers and staff” at that time. Petty voiced “grave concerns” that some of those policies “violate current Florida law.”
He did not specify which ones, but laws such as the “Parents’ Bill of Rights,” passed by the Legislature in 2021, work to protect a parent’s authority to direct the education, upbringing, and mental health of their child at public schools.
Petty highlighted a policy in the Hillsborough County school district that stated, in part, that “it’s never appropriate to divulge the sexual orientation of a student to a parent.”
During its 2022 Regular Session, the Legislature passed HB 1557, Parental Rights in Education, which critics often refer to as “Don’t Say Gay or Trans.”
A major criticism of that law involved potential censorship of LGBTQ+ topics in classrooms.
The law also broadly restricts school districts from adopting “procedures or student support forms that prohibit school district personnel from notifying a parent about his or her student’s mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being, or a change in related services or monitoring, or that encourage or have the effect of encouraging a student to withhold from a parent such information.”
The new law does contain a carve-out for situations “where a prudent person would believe that disclosure would result in abuse, abandonment, or neglect,” but it’s vague as to what that means.
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