Supporters of efforts to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students in Lee County schools from harassment struck back at the growing opposition to the initiative Tuesday night.
The session was flooded by supporters of LGBTQ rights who dominated the board’s limited public discussion period with calls for vigorous support for recognizing the human rights of transgender, gay, lesbian and other students with non-traditional gender identities.
Parents and others who don’t want the school district having a role in human sexuality education and discussing the topic with their children also spoke out again against the school district interfering with parental rights.
Lee County School Board:Meeting starts with removal of man for speaking out of turn
Board members earlier heard district staff announce in workshop-style session that a controversial poster that suggested “best practices and action steps” for LGBTQ students to counter discrimination would be scrapped. It was part of the school district handbook for the 2021 academic year.
The handbook diagram covered areas ranging from attending social events with a same-gender date to using restrooms that align with gender identity.
Board staff members told the board that the poster will be replaced by a “critical report guide” for LGBTQ students and that the district will develop “additional postering and communication regarding non-discrimination policies.”
The guide will be developed for the new school year through involvement of stakeholders, whose interests were not specified, with the goal of using updated information to replace the controversial best practices guide.
Mother talked about her 12-year-old daughter who was attacked by a student
But the most compelling comments of the public comment portion of the school board meeting Tuesday came when a parent complained that her 12-year-old daughter had been attacked by a fellow student at a district school, an attack she said appeared to be based on a gender issue.
The girl, a student at the Paul Laurence Dunbar Middle School, told her mother last week that a male student came up to the girl, whom her mom refers to as “tomboyish,” and indicated he was going to give her a gender test.
The News-Press is not reporting the name of the mother to protect the identity of the girl.
“On Monday, my daughter was the victim of a ‘meat check,'” the woman told the school board during the comment period.
“She was in class and a young man called her over. He then stood up and punched her in the groin. I’m told that this is not only happening at her school but at other schools throughout the school district,” the mother said.
The mother later told The News-Press that because the girl recoiled in pain from the punch to the groin, the boy said it meant her true gender was male.
The girl’s mother describes herself as having served in several positions involving counseling, including assisting rape victims. She said she knew that her daughter would be OK in recovering from the incident but questioned whether other girls who may have been subjected to the same violent attack would respond the same way.
“The thing that I find alarming, aside that it happened, is the fact that other types of violence continue across the district and, that being said, I don’t understand how it is OK for students to come back into class, to come back to school and have to sit in, near and with people who have assaulted (them),” she said.
“My overarching concern is that when I called and reached out to the school every day last week to ask what the steps were taken so that all the students would be taken seriously, I was (told) they can’t tell me what happened to the kid. That’s not what I asked,” she said.
Her goal, she said, was to find out what kind of accountability would be brought to bear to find out what inspired the incident and to recognize its potential to be repeated on other girls less able to defend themselves.
But the mother’s one minute of public speaking time expired and the microphone was turned off.
No member of the school board asked to set aside the 60-second speaking limit to hear more about the student-on-student attack.
A district representative asked that the woman leave her name for further discussion of the incident.
After she left the auditorium, a Lee County Sheriff’s Office sergeant followed her to the lobby to tell her of steps she could take to pursue further action or investigation and explained how to enlist the help of a victim advocate.
In a discussion with The News Press, the mother said that her daughter, whom she described as having been taunted in the incident, was physically able to handle herself in a physical altercation.
“They called her a man-girl,” the mother said. “He said it because it hurt her, and he said, ‘Oh, it’s a boy.’
“She doesn’t identify as anything but my daughter, she’s not going through all that. She has an older brother and when they tussle, I have to get my bearings. She has her dad’s strength and her dad’s center of gravity. If she had hit him, (a fight) would have been on — she didn’t, she didn’t hit him, she went through the chain of command after being hit.”
The mother said she has worked for Lee schools in the past and understands the procedures and codes of conduct for the district, which she said makes her inability to discover information even more frustrating.
“I don’t even know if she went to the nurse or a counselor. I don’t know anything. She finally texted me when she had an opportunity to get to her phone. They can’t get to the phone during the day,” the mother said.
“I didn’t get a call,” the mother said. “And she’s 12.”