OCPS "CAMP LEGAL" AND IMPLICATIONS OF DANGEROUS LEGISLATION

June 29, 2022 - UPDATE

Thank you to the teachers, parents and community members who came out yesterday to speak at the OCPS School Board meeting concerning guidance around LBGTQ+ issues that was shared with administrators at the OCPS Camp Legal meeting. 

The speakers expressed common themes - that every student must feel safe, respected, included and supported in school. There must be transparent guidelines from the District to train faculty in ensuring supportive learning environments where every child can thrive.

Last night, I received an email from Chair Jacobs  (at THIS LINK). It  contained clarification from OCPS General Counsel Amy Envall and the Motion to Dismiss in the Equality Florida vs DeSantis lawsuit. (At  THIS LINK). 

Below is the clarification from Attorney Envall to school board members with her highlights:

Subject: HB 1557 Clarification in State's Motion to Dismiss - Equality Florida Lawsuit

Dear School Board Members,

Yesterday, in the Equality Florida, et al. v. DeSantis, et al. case (in which the School Board is a named Defendant), the State filed its Motion to Dismiss (attached hereto).  As part of that Motion to Dismiss, the State provided clarification and guidance on the meaning of HB 1557 Parental Rights in Education.  This is the most extensive guidance that the State has provided.  This will assist school districts in interpretation of the law and in providing guidance to staff.  The clarifications and guidance are as follows:

  • “As a threshold matter, only the instructional restriction applicable to kindergarten through third grade takes effect on July 1, 2022. For older children, the bill ties the prohibition of instruction that is not “age-appropriate” or “developmentally appropriate” to “state standards” that have not yet been adopted and need not be adopted for another year.” – page 16
  • “The statute limits classroom instruction on “sexual orientation or gender identity.”

    Nothing in that language “aims at sexual orientations and gender identities that differ from heterosexual and cisgender identities.” ECF 47 ¶ 15 (emphasis omitted). To the contrary, instruction on “the normalcy of opposite-sex attraction” would equally be “instruction on sexual orientation.” Id. ¶ 11. The statute is neutral on the proscribed subjects.” – page 17

  • “There is no merit, for example, to the suggestion that the statute restricts gay and transgender teachers from “put[ting] a family photo on their desk” or “ refer[ring] to themselves and their spouse (and their own children).” Id. ¶ 8. Those actions are not “instruction,” which is “the action, practice, or profession of teaching,” Instruction, Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary (last visited June 26, 2022).” – page 17

 

  • “For the same reason, the statute does not prohibit intervention against LGBTQ bullying, participation in extracurricular activities (such as “Gay-Straight Alliances” or books fairs), and even after-hours tutoring, ECF 47 ¶¶ 8, 118–19, 121, 184, among many other examples. That is not “classroom instruction” covered by the statute.”

    – page 18

  • “The bill thus restricts instruction on particular subjects (sexual orientation and gender identity), not mere discussion of them. Consistent with that view, the Legislature rejected a restriction on “encourag[ing] classroom discussion about” the prescribed subjects in favor of a limited restriction on “classroom instruction.” Compare An Act Relating to Parental Rights, CS/HB1557 (Jan 21, 2022), with H.B. 1557 § 1.” – pages 18-19
  • “The statute thus leaves teachers free to “respond if students discuss . . . their identities or family life,” “provide grades and feedback” if a student chooses “LGBTQ identity” as an essay topic, and answer “questions about their families.” ECF 47 ¶¶ 8, 120. For kindergarten through grade three, they simply must not handle these situations by teaching the subjects of sexual orientation or gender identity. And like other subject-matter education, that is most naturally understood in terms of the underlying concepts.” – page 19
  • “So too here, “instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity” would include teaching an overview of modern gender theory or a particular view of marriage equality. But just as no one would suggest that references to numbers in a history book constitute “instruction on mathematics,” no one should think that H.B. 1557 prohibits incidental references in literature to a gay or transgender person or to a same-sex couple. Id. ¶ 8. Such references, without more, are not “instruction on” those topics. Nor are “refer[ences] to a student’s ‘mom’ and ‘dad’”  instruction on” cisgender identity or heterosexual orientation. Id. ¶ 11. Such references could be to a person of any sexual orientation or gender identity.” – page 19
  • “But all that means is that schools cannot evade the bill’s limits by delegating “classroom instruction” on the prescribed topics to an individual other than a teacher, be it a parent, student, guest lecturer, or anyone else. But typical class participation and schoolwork are not “instruction,” even if a student chooses to address sexual orientation or gender identity.” – page 20
  • “Plaintiffs are likewise incorrect to suggest that, under H.B. 1557, parents may “sue schools for damages whenever they believe a teacher, any other ‘school personnel,’ or any ‘third party’ has provided any ‘classroom instruction’ that may be perceived as relating to ‘sexual orientation’ or ‘gender identity.’” ECF 47 ¶ 5. Even putting aside Plaintiffs’ gross overreading of the scope of the prohibition, see supra pp. 16–20,

    parents cannot just sue whenever they believe prohibited classroom instruction has occurred. They may sue only to challenge an unlawful “school district practice or procedure.” H.B. 1557 § 1. Even then, before suing, parents must first exhaust two other avenues of relief by “notify[ing] the principal . . . regarding concerns under this paragraph,” and then, if “the concern remains unresolved” after 30 days, notifying the school district, which “must either resolve the concern or provide a statement of the reasons for not resolving the concern.” Id. Only then, with the school district’s “statement of the reasons” in hand, may the parent choose between administrative proceedings with the State Board of Education (the cost of which shall be borne by the school district) or litigation against the school district in state court.

    ” – pages 20-21

 

Teachers must have clear written direction from the District in light of hateful bills that are dangerous to children, families and communities and are driving even more teachers from the profession.  

NEWS COVERAGE

Channel 9 - Teachers Raise Concerns After Orange County Previews "Don't Say Gay' impact to classrooms

WMFE-NPR - Orange County parents and LGBTQ advocates will turn tonight’s school board meeting rainbow. Here’s why

Channel 6 - Pushback in Orange County schools over Parental Rights in Education Act Documents show lawsuit has been filed by LGBT-advocacy group

Channel 2 - Orange County teachers voice concern ahead of 'Don't Say Gay' law taking effect

 

June 28, 2022

camp legalCTA continues to advocate for safe and healthy working conditions where teachers and students are respected, diverse beliefs are valued, and rights are upheld.

Since early this year, teachers have been concerned with dangerous legislation spewing out from Tallahassee. The Don't Say Gay Bill  - HB 1557/SB 1834 prohibits teachers from talking about LGBTQ+ issues  and undermines existing protections and rights for LGBTQ+ students, teachers and families in Florida's public schools. The Woke Bill HB 7/SB 148 censors honest discussions of America’s history and limits curriculum.

We also saw a concentrated effort to remove and ban certain books from classrooms and school media centers. (Read more at THIS LINK.) In Orange County this push was led by Proud Boy and Roger Stone protege, Jacob Engels, and the Moms for Liberty school board candidate, Alicia Farrant. All of these actions appear to have been fueled by the far right agenda under the guise of "parental rights".

Parental rights appears to be a twisted catch phrase of the far right.  Many of the "parental rights" actually are not rights at all. They are beliefs that tromp on the rights of other parents and persons.  Take the campaign to unmask students in schools -Is it a parent's right to take action that could potentially result in the illness or death of another person during a raging pandemic? Is it a parent's right to censor curriculum and eliminate discussions of slavery or historical events that could make certain children "feel uncomfortable"? Is it a parent's right to limit discussions of LGBTQ+ issues and isolate and endanger students and other members of the school community?

Last week CTA learned from our members that OCPS held a meeting entitled "Camp Legal", which was prepared and presented by attorneys from their legal department. (THIS LINK). The apparent intent was to instruct administrators and managers on new legislation and certain legal  issues. However, leaked discussions and directives raised red flags for teachers who contacted CTA to express concerns and ask questions.

I sent an email to Chair Jacobs, Superintendent Jenkins and Deputy Superintendent Vazquez seeking clarification.  This morning I received a response from OCPS General Counsel Amy Envall. (Read the email and response at this link.) Below are the questions and Attorney Envall's responses (in blue highlights):

Dear Ms. Doromal,

Your email was forwarded to me for preparation of a response since I oversee the Office of Legal Services.  Based on feedback provided by administrators, the following sessions were offered last week to administrators as part of legal training: (1) Labor and Employment; (2) EEO, Title IX and ADA; (3) ESE, Parental Rights, LGBTQ+; and (4) STAT, Custody, Discipline, Truancy, GAL/DCF/DJJ.  Of particular interest was the ESE, Parental Rights, LGBTQ+ session.  The presentation (attached) was a verbatim recitation of the newly passed revisions to the Florida Statutes created by HB 7 and HB 1557 and covered other topics as well.    

I sat through the ESE, Parental Rights, LGBTQ+ session presentation and can provide the following responses (in blue) to your quoted statements that I have copied below:

  • “OCPS administrators and managers attended a "Legal Camp" where OCPS attorneys directed them in expected behaviors and rules concerning legislation, specifically any parental rights bills.  If true, when will teachers receive this information?” 

    The intent of the training was to make sure school administrators were aware of the new laws – no direction was provided.

    It was stressed that formal guidance from the district will be provided to the schools once the Florida Department of Education issues more specific guidance. 
  • “The teachers have reported that at this camp the statements listed below were shared. I would like to know if these particular statements are accurate or not so I can correct any misinformation:”

    During the presentation, once the new Florida Statutes were read aloud, administrators posed hypothetical scenarios based upon the new statutes and tentative answers were provided based on the limited guidance from the Florida Department of Education.

    • “Students may only use restrooms and locker rooms according to the gender assigned at their birth” 

      Not an accurate statement - what was discussed is that the district’s current guidelines regarding bathroom use by cis-gender, transgender, non-binary, and gender-fluid students remains unchanged.

    • “Teachers with same sex partners may not display photos of their weddings or discuss their same-sex partners. However, heterosexual teachers may discuss their family relationships.”

      Not an accurate statement – all teachers are encouraged to keep pictures of their families in the classroom; however, in K-3, it was cautioned against specific discussions in the event those discussions could be deemed classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity. 

    • “All books that reference gender identity or sexuality will be removed from classroom libraries and the media centers in elementary and middle schools” 

      Not an accurate statement - it was recommended that any instructional material made available to K-3 students be reviewed for the prohibited content of sexual orientation or gender identity.

    • “Teachers may not display pride flags and safe space stickers will be removed from classroom doors.”

      Not an accurate statement - based on the plain language of HB 1557, during the training it was recommended that the safe space stickers be removed from K-3 classrooms so that classroom instruction did not inadvertently occur on the prohibited content of sexual orientation or gender identity.

    • “Teachers are not allowed to make references to gay pride and are discouraged from wearing pride or BLM shirts and may not discuss them if they do”

      Not an accurate statement - in addition to the provisions contained in Policy GBI, which govern political activity of staff, those who work with K-3 students, or who may come in contact with K-3 students, were cautioned not to wear clothing that may elicit discussions that could be deemed classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity.

    • “Teachers will be required to notify parents if a student comes out to them that they are gay.”

      Not an accurate statement - what was recommended was consistent with the statutory language created by HB 1557 that requires notification to a student’s parent if there is a change in the 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.

    • “Teachers will not be allowed to use preferred gender pronouns.” 

      Not an accurate statement – it was shared that the district will continue to use the child’s and parent’s preferred gender pronouns.

    • “The resource person assigned at the RBELC to assist GLESEN and GSA clubs will no longer be functioning in that capacity”

      Not an accurate statement - this topic was not covered during legal training.

    • “Student passing time between classes will be counted as "breaks" for teachers.  The district will be scheduling teachers for more than 3 continuous hours with students. ("ARTICLE XIV Duty Day B. 3. d. No teacher shall be assigned responsibility for students for more than three continuous hours.")  We assume this means that no teacher will be directed to watch students in the hallways between classes. Please advise.”

      Not an accurate statement - this topic was not covered during legal training.

As you are aware, there are new limitations on how district staff interacts with our students and those interactions must be in accordance with the law.  Our office merely assists in providing what the law currently says.  Once the Florida Department of Education provides its guidance, the district will be able to provide formal guidance to the schools.  Clarity is important, especially with the new legislation.  Ultimately, the district wants each of our students to be respected and to feel safe at school and for our teachers to continue to be prepared to provide a safe place in which our students can learn. 

I hope this clears up the misunderstandings of the training that have been shared.  Please let me know if you have further questions about the training.

Warm regards,  

Amy D. Envall

General Counsel

Office of Legal Services

Orange County Public Schools

445 West Amelia Street, Orlando, Florida 32801

Phone: 407-317-3411

Fax: 407-317-3348

www.ocps.net


Ms. Envall attached a part of the presentation given at  "Camp Legal". I received the entire PowerPoint presentation from another source. You can read it at THIS LINK: View Document  The presentation also discusses OCPS unilateral changes to health and safety, EEO, Title IX, ADA, discipline and other issues.