Over 350 show up to meeting on LGBTQ equality policies at Lee County schools

Guardians of students, students themselves and other members of the public joined the Lee County School Board at a meeting Monday to respond to controversy regarding LGBTQ policies in the 2020-21 student code of conduct.

More than 350 people who showed up to voice either their vigorous support or opposition to students using the bathroom of the gender they identify with.

According to an excerpt from the poster in the student code of conduct: “All students are allowed to access the restrooms that are consistent with their gender identity, or be provided appropriate accommodations as requested. Accommodations are determined in collaboration with district staff on a case-by-case basis.”

The audience didn’t wait for the public comment period to begin before they started talking.

An early disruption at the meeting ended with a deputy escorting a man out of District headquarters, which set the tone for a heated public comment that followed.

Sixty people spoke for and against the poster that says students can use the restroom consistent with their gender identity.

“I’m the scary transgender student you’re all so afraid of,” said Estero High School student Alden Rivas.

“Don’t let hostile homophobia reverse your admirable standards,” said Cathy Horn.

“The failure of the District’s process to adequately engage the public and understand where we want this district to go,” said Matt Caldwell, Lee County Property Appraiser.

“How do we protect the sixth-grade girl who feels uncomfortable dressing next to someone who has different body parts,” said Lee County Commissioner Brian Hamman.

District staff gave the board a recommendation: Do not include the poster in the 2021-22 student code conduct.

They need more time, district staff said, to solidify a policy that stays in line with both federal and state law.

Outside the doors of the meeting chamber there were more passionate individuals.

“I’ve had no interaction with any kids my age who think it’s an issue,” Olive Kurlinski said. “It’s only the parents.”

“There also has to be protection for my children, for children who identify how they’re born,” Michelle Waldron said.

School district board member Melisa Giovanelli wanted assurance the board won’t be — as she felt — blindsided again.

Board member Gwyn Gittens wants the board to listen to students, not parents alone.

“You don’t get a whole lot of people riled up until you mess with their kids,” said Linda Millagin, a grandmother in Lee County. “You mess with their kids, it’s a whole ‘nother issue.”

School district board member Chris Patricca asked about another concern: What happens if a student wants to change their gender identity with the District, but doesn’t want to include a parent in that decision?

Because of this, she said she wants to include a signature line for the parents, Patricca said.

District staff said their attorney and the board’s attorney would need to look into that.

A vote was not expected or made at the conclusion of the meeting.

“As a parent and a grandparent, you know, I have to protect my grandkids and my … kids and understand, you know, how my children have to, you know, fend for their kids,” said Debbie Jordan, the chair of the school board. “So I get it. I get all this.”

A decision by the board is expected to be made June 8.

Reporter:Sydney Persing
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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