(WM) LGBT students, parents and activists spoke at the Flagler County School Board meeting Nov. 17 to once again call for the board to update School Board Policy Manual’s section 217, the district’s nondiscrimination policy, by adding gender identity to it.
The current policy manual already protects individuals from discrimination based on “race [including anti-Semitism], color, religion, gender, age, marital status, sexual orientation, pregnancy, disability, political or religious beliefs, national or ethnic origin or genetic information.”
The Bertrand family has attempted to have gender identity added to the school board’s manual since 2019 when Elliott Bertrand came out as transgender and experienced discrimination from one of his teachers.
“Why? It is two words,” Bertrand said during the Nov. 17 school board meeting. “Two words that will help a lot more students than you can ever know. Why? Why not do it?”
Bertrand was one of several speakers at the school board meeting calling for policy section 217 to be updated. Another speaker, Bertrand’s mother, Jennifer Bertrand asked the board to lead by example.
“Over the course of this past year I have seen example after example of children in this very school district begging the adults on this board to protect them,” Jennifer Bertrand said. “Our children deserve to feel safe every single day at school. I will never give up on asking this board to add gender identity to policy 217. I will do this month after month until I prove to my children that if persist long enough you can accomplish anything you put your mind to.”
Last April, the Flagler County School Board voted 4-1 to keep the district’s nondiscrimination policy as is without the addition of gender identity.
“The importance of policies in place for any types of our young people that are marginalized and at-risk is essential, especially in today’s world, where calling people out and mistreatment can be the norm whether it implicates or explicate biases,” says De Palazzo, Equality Florida’s statewide safe school's director. “Boards have a due diligence to ensure that all young people feel safe and connected and valued.”
The school board has changed since that 4-1 vote with Flagler County voting to keep Colleen Conklin on the board, the single vote calling for the policy to be updated, and voted out Maria Barbosa, who was vocal about not updating the policy, replacing her with retired teacher Cheryl Massaro. Andy Dance termed out and was replaced by the voters with Jill Woolbright. The board’s returning members are Janet McDonald and Trevor Tucker.
“I have confidence that the changes in this board will help the board be more introspective and circumspective about the needs of LGBTQ young people,” says Palazzo, “particularly because the youth risk behavior survey tells us that 18.2% of students identify as LGB or unsure, with 1.3-3.3 identifying at transgender.”
Watermark reached out to each of the board members and asked if and when they intend to vote on updating the policy manual’s nondiscrimination policy. Massaro was the only one to respond.
“The School Board has scheduled a retreat for [Dec. 8],” Massaro wrote in an email. “I would hope that will be a topic of discussion.”
You can watch the Flagler County School Board’s full Nov. 17 meeting here.