Lee County School Board debates when LGBTQ policies were added to code of conduct

Lee County School Board members are now looking at each other when it comes to LGBTQ policies that made it into the approved student code of conduct for the 2020-21 school year. This comes after concerned parents and community members attended the Tuesday regular meeting in droves to voice concerns for policies and a poster that explained them in Lee County Schools.

Board members at the School District of Lee Count are pointing fingers at one another over a disagreement in a plan voted on by board members and signed by Lee County parents 10 months ago and passed unanimously in June 2020.

Members defended themselves to parents about how much they knew was in the policy and when they knew about it.

A number of guardians of students said they only recently learned about LGBTQ policies in the code recently.

One school board member went so far as to suggest someone snuck in a controversial poster outlining LGBTQ rights in the student code of conduct.

We reviewed previously-recorded board meetings over the last 10 months to learn when board members knew about the approved polices.

The fact is the poster is not new. It’s part of the student code of conduct the board passed in June 2020, but it’s new to a crowd of people who voiced their concerns during a regular board meeting.

“My concern is it was during a time of COVID, and my concern is it was during a period of time when we didn’t have a lot of input from the community,” board member Gwyn Gitten said.

Gittens asked to rescind her vote ahead of Tuesday’s heated public comment, noting she never saw the poster when she and everyone else voted yes to the code of conduct.

The poster is on page 84 of the 96-page document for the student code of conduct.

Board member Melisa Giovannelli backed Gittens up.

“I was unaware it was in there as well,” Gittens said. “I didn’t see it. I went back at some of the meetings that we had in May, and I don’t see any conversation where it was brought to us.”

Except, it did come up briefly during May 5, 2020, a month ahead of the board’s vote. School staff briefed board members about new additions to the code of conduct in a slideshow.

Staff said, “We added the equity Florida, which is a full-page poster [Mr. Chuck Bradley] was talking about prior in the presentation.”

“We’ve also added in the back section a section on LGBTQ, and the rights LGBTQ have in our schools,” said Chuck Bradley, the District’s director of positive prevention, at a previously meeting.

That was all.

But board members Cathleen Morgan and Chris Patricca argue all board members were expected to read the code of conduct before voting on it.

“You cannot say that you didn’t read it, and you approved it. I’m sorry,” Patricca said. “The finger goes here. It doesn’t go outward.”

Superintendent Greg Adkins also noted a number of different committees discussed the poster in advance of the vote.

Next up: The school board will meet April 26 to hear the thoughts of parents and grandparents once again.

Reporter:Sydney Persing
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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