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Palm Beach school district pulls LGBTQ support guide from its website

Sito Narcisse, a finalist for the BCPS superintendent job, speaks with a principal Wednesday, June 14, 2023.
Brynn Anderson

In this file photo, a student raises their hand in a classroom at Tussahaw Elementary school on Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021, in McDonough, Ga.

The School District of Palm Beach County has removed from its website a guide detailing best practices on how to support LGBTQ students and staff. The move comes as districts across the state are grappling with how to comply with House Bill 1557, which critics call the “Don’t Say Gay” law. The legislation went into effect July 1.

The second edition of Palm Beach schools’ LGBTQ+ Critical Support Guide, which is dated 2021, is more than 100 pages long and provides guidance on federal anti-discrimination laws, anti-bullying policies and best practices on supporting people who are coming out or who are socially transitioning.

“We feel this guide is a critical tool at a critical time. All young people — including those who are LGBTQ+ — have the right to feel safe and secure in the schools they attend," a summary of the guide reads. "Students who feel accepted at school are more highly motivated, engaged in learning, and committed to achieving the best possible education."

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A number of school districts have developed their own support guides for LGBTQ students and staff, which include lists of community resources, statistics on the mental health of queer kids and anonymous quotes.

“Where I was brought up ... there's that island culture that is strongly against homosexuality. I would feel like I would want to kill myself. I felt like I was a mistake. I wanted to be heterosexual. I wanted to be like everyone else,” reads a quote in the SDPBC guide attributed to “a public school student.”

A spokesperson for the school district said the guide is currently “under review” but would not explain what that review entails.

“The educational materials that the district shares internally are continually subject to review. The guide that you referenced in your inquiry is currently included in materials under review,” a district spokesperson said.

Equality Florida Press Secretary Brandon Wolf says resources like Palm Beach County’s guide are critical for queer kids — who are significantly more likely than their straight peers to experience violence and attempt suicide, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

“The goal of providing guidelines like the critical support guide has always been to help improve the mental and physical health outcomes of LGBTQ young people,” Wolf said.

The SDPBC guide cites county-level statistics from the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey showing that in 2019, 50.7% of students who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual in Palm Beach County reported feeling sad or hopeless and 35.9% seriously considered suicide.

“These statistics validate the need for the Guide. Let there be no doubt — affirming education can save lives when it comes to LGBTQ+ youth,” the guide reads. “Many face unique challenges based on social stigma and environmental stressors that may stem from home, school, or both.”

For LGBTQ young people, surveys show that having supportive adults in their lives can make a profound difference. According to The Trevor Project, queer kids who had at least one accepting adult were 40% less likely to report a suicide attempt in the past year.

“So in many ways, these are conversations about life and death," Wolf said. "Creating affirming spaces, ensuring that all students are respected and protected, those are life-saving policies. They’re suicide prevention.”

SDPBC’s guide includes references to federal court cases and details students’ rights to be out in school — and to not be out at home, and includes language strongly discouraging staff from disclosing a student’s sexual orientation or gender identity to anyone without their permission.

“Occasionally, a parent may contact teachers, guidance counselors, or administrators to ask if their child has confided in them about their sexual orientation or gender identity. With the very limited exception involving the imminent fear of physical harm, it is never appropriate to divulge the sexual orientation or gender identity of a student to a parent/caregiver without that student’s informed consent,” the SDPBC guide reads.

According to reporting by the Tampa Bay Times, state lawmakers wrote House Bill 1557 with the goal of striking down policies like those in Palm Beach County’s guide. The legislation has sparking national outcry and bans classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade — and in all grades if not’s considered age or developmentally appropriate.

Some districts, including Palm Beach County, have been proactively pulling books, instructional materials and other resources out of circulation in response to the law, which empowers parents to sue districts if they feel their schools aren’t complying.

If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Beginning July 16, 2022, the lifeline can be reached by simply dialing 988.

Kate Payne is WLRN's Education Reporter. Reach her at kpayne@wlrnnews.org
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