Kurt Browning, who is the Superintendent of Pasco County schools said in a letter to staff that he intends to remove “safe spaces” and that “safe space” stickers will no longer be displayed.
The stickers Browning is referring to is a sticker with Pasco County as a rainbow flag, the sticker also has the Pasco County school logo on it. The sticker also has text on it which says “This is a safe space for all, including all genders, orientations, identities, abilities, cultures, and backgrounds.”
Browning explicity said in his letter that this move is a direct response to the recently signed parental rights education law. School officials under this law must notify student’s parents over any significant change to their behaviour.
“Recent legislation requires that we notify parents whenever there is a change in a 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,” Browning said.
Browning added that having safe spaces in operation makes it difficult to ascertain when a student’s behaviour is changing to the extent that a notification should be made.
“There is a concern that a student’s presence in a designated ‘safe space’ could trigger a duty for Pasco County Schools staff to notify a parent of a potential change in their child’s well-being,” he said.
Browning went on to say that having safe spaces could cause confusion for both staff and students: “There also is a concern that a student might mistakenly believe that a conversation in a designated ‘space’ will not be disclosed to their parent, which could be in violation of the law.”
“Given the difficulty of determining whether a student’s presence in a limited, designated ‘safe space’ location is as an indicator of a student’s emotional or mental well-being, our district will discontinue the utilization of such limited spaces to avoid misinterpretation and a potential violation of the law,” Browning said.
Browning concluded his letter by referring to the stickers as a distraction. “The ‘safe space’ stickers will be removed, as they have become a flashpoint that distracts from our goals of creating a school-wide and district-wide safe environment,” he said.
Cathy Julian, who is a leader of the Conservative Pasco Watch Group, said that there as been pushback against the stickers for some time and she is pleased that action has been taken. “I think it’s a good thing. Schools should be safe spaces; they should not have safe spaces,” Julian said.
Brandon Wolf, who is a spokesperson for the LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Florida, lashed out at the district’s ban. Wolf said LGBTQ youth face increasing rates of depression, anxiety, bullying and violence than their peers, and that removing these stickers is not constructive.
“Pasco County Schools is bending to the political will of the governor, stripping schools of safe space stickers and sending a direct message to students that being LGBTQ is something to be ashamed of and hidden away,” Wolf said, according to Tampa Bay Times. “Superintendent Browning has expressed a goal of creating a district-wide safe environment. But the reality is that for vulnerable LGBTQ young people, that is simply not the case.”
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