Orange County Public Schools clarifies guidance for new laws after backlash at board meeting

Rumors about how Orange County Public Schools (OCPS) plans to handle new changes to state law had people speaking out at Tuesday's school board meeting. One teacher said she has been pushed to the point of resigning. 

"Existing in a classroom setting where there’s potential guidelines coming down that dictate how I can form relationships with my students, what I can talk to them about, and how I can keep them safe is an impossible task," said Lauren Fant, who taught U.S. history in the district for eight years.

"What really disturbed me was the fact they took such a hard-line interpretation of the bill that they were willing to issue preliminary guidance that was so oppressive," Fant said.

At the meeting, the district tried to clarify some things that are concerning people. For example, one rumor was that all books referencing gender identity or sexuality would be removed. The district clarified, saying all materials available to kindergarten through third-grade students should be reviewed, since those topics are not allowed to be taught to that age group.

It was also rumored that teachers couldn't reference gay pride or wear pride shirts. The district says kindergarten through third-grade teachers is being cautioned not to wear anything that could start a conversation and possibly deemed instruction on sexuality or gender identity.

Some had heard they wouldn't be allowed to have a "safe space" sticker in classrooms. District officials say that is not true, but they did recommend removing the stickers from kindergarten through third-grade rooms so that nothing was accidentally taught there that breaks the new law.

Another concern was whether teachers can display pictures of a same-sex spouse. The district says an ongoing lawsuit clarifies that.

"They have specifically answered that that is not in violation of the law," said Superintendent Barbara Jenkins during the meeting.

That was guidance from the district's lawyers. OCPS says more formal rules will come from the Florida Department of Education. Below is an explainer that the district sent to FOX 35 News to address concerns.

RUMOR: "Students may only use restrooms and locker rooms according to the gender assigned at their birth."  Not an accurate statement. What was discussed is that the district’s current guidelines regarding bathroom use by cis-gender, transgender, non-binary, and gender-fluid students remains unchanged.

EXPLANATION: "Teachers with same-sex partners may not display photos of their weddings or discuss their same-sex partners. However, heterosexual teachers may discuss their family relationships." Not an accurate statement. All teachers are encouraged to keep pictures of their families in the classroom; however, in K-3, it was cautioned against specific discussions in the event those discussions could be deemed classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity.  

RUMOR: "All books that reference gender identity or sexuality will be removed from classroom libraries and the media centers in elementary and middle schools."  Not an accurate statement. It was recommended that any instructional material made available to K-3 students be reviewed for the prohibited content of sexual orientation or gender identity.

EXPLANATION: "Teachers may not display pride flags and safe space stickers will be removed from classroom doors." Not an accurate statement. Based on the plain language of HB 1557, during the training it was recommended that the safe space stickers be removed from K-3 classrooms so that classroom instruction did not inadvertently occur on the prohibited content of sexual orientation or gender identity.

RUMOR: "Teachers are not allowed to make references to gay pride and are discouraged from wearing pride or BLM shirts and may not discuss them if they do." Not an accurate statement. In addition to the provisions contained in Policy GBI, which govern political activity of staff, those who work with K-3 students, or who may come in contact with K-3 students, were cautioned not to wear clothing that may elicit discussions that could be deemed classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity.

EXPLANATION:"Teachers will be required to notify parents if a student comes out to them that they are gay." Not an accurate statement. What was recommended was consistent with the statutory language created by HB 1557 that requires notification to a student’s parent if there is a change in the student’s services or monitoring related to the student’s mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being and the school’s ability to provide a safe and supportive learning environment for the student.

RUMOR: "Teachers will not be allowed to use preferred gender pronouns." Not an accurate statement. It was shared that the district will continue to use the child’s and parent’s preferred gender pronouns.

EXPLANATION:"The resource person assigned at the RBELC to assist GLESEN and GSA clubs will no longer be functioning in that capacity." Not an accurate statement. This topic was not covered during legal training.

RUMOR: "Student passing time between classes will be counted as "breaks" for teachers. The district will be scheduling teachers for more than 3 continuous hours with students. ("ARTICLE XIV Duty Day B. 3. d. No teacher shall be assigned responsibility for students for more than three continuous hours.")  We assume this means that no teacher will be directed to watch students in the hallways between classes. Please advise." Not an accurate statement - this topic was not covered during legal training.