Monroe County School Board member Andy Griffiths on Tuesday encouraged his colleagues to consider adopting more rigorous policies to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and "questioning" Florida Keys students.
At a board workshop, Dawn Michelini, a counselor at Coral Shores High School, presented statistics showing such students are more likely to report instances of assault, harassment, bullying, skipping school and suicide.
She described small steps like "change the culture of how we say 'that's gay.' They hear it and nobody corrects it. We might be stopping them from using a curse word in the hallway but we're not stopping them from using" derogatory terms.
Griffiths followed with an explanation of Florida Statute 1006.147, enacted in May 2008, that created a statewide prohibition on the bullying or harassment of any student or employee. The statute leaves it up to individual school districts to enumerate specific categories.
He pointed to the Broward County School District's July 2008 adoption of an anti-bullying policy specifying "sex, race, color, religion, national origin, age, disability (physical, mental or educational), marital status, socio-economic background, ancestry, ethnicity, gender, gender identity or expression, linguistic preference, political beliefs, sexual orientation or social/family background."
"Here's a place we can make a difference," Griffiths said. "We can take it further and I think it would be justifiable."
Key West-based board member Robin Smith-Martin questioned whether a larger focus on LBGTQ students "may create a situation where an even larger group of kids are not being serviced and don't want to participate because they don't want to be stereotyped."
Board Chairman Ron Martin, a former Coral Shores principal, said, "This isn't just a school problem; it's a societal problem."
Also at the workshop in Tavernier, board member Ed Davidson discussed the comparative emphasis on bullying versus actual physical violence, governed by a policy that doesn't require disciplinary action short of "assault or aggravated assault, or battery or aggravated battery."
"We're not required to turn violent misbehavior in to the authorities short of felony assault, but it does not prohibit us from doing it," Davidson said.
Superintendent Mark Porter contrasted zero-tolerance policies with broader rules that enable interpretation from the board or administration.
"Part of the balance is policy. Sometimes if you get into real extensive lists, you can omit something that wasn't thought of at the time," Porter said.
Griffiths, describing a "divergence of policy," said, "I think this one needs a little time spent on it, and I'd like to see the community involved. It's a community policy that's a community discussion."
Student conduct and applicable school policy has been a hot topic lately, particularly in the Upper Keys, prompted by a January incident in which a Key Largo School third-grader allegedly threatened to shoot his classmates and chop them up with a chainsaw.
In that case, the teacher's classroom panic button, which is designed to alert a school's main office to a classroom emergency, reportedly didn't work.