At a Tuesday night Brevard County School Board meeting, the district provided an update on student progress, and the debate continued about the climate for LGBTQ students in local schools.
BPS inspector Mark Mullins said the district has made progress toward closing its COVID-19 learning gap, but students are still lagging behind in some areas.
Many schools have seen students fall behind during the COVID-19 pandemic, and teachers warned of existing differences in students with disabilities, students with low-income families and black and Hispanic students have worsened.
In the fall of 2021, 41% of black or African-American high school students studied two or more years after grade level, compared with 33% of Hispanic students, 23% of multi-ethnic students, and 18% of white students. During the winter, this percentage for black and African American students dropped to 38%, and 31% of Latin American students, 21% of multiethnic students, and 16% of white students were two or more years behind grade levels.
The district’s graduation rate for colleges increased from 90.3% to 90.6% in 2021, marking the fourth year in a row that the district has experienced an increase in its graduation rate.
“When we looked at these data earlier, I think we all had a little bit of weight in seeing where the kids started this school year, and seeing the progress that has been made this year is absolutely phenomenal,” the School Board Chairman Misty Belford said after the presentation. “In a year where we’ve had so many challenges with having classrooms covered … And it’s incredibly clear from this data that they are, everyone is putting in the effort and making a difference for our children.”
Members of the Melbourne Gay Straight Alliance and some LGBTQ advocates attended the meeting to discuss two high school vandalism cases. A gay-straight alliance is a student-run club that aims to provide a safe environment for LGBTQ students and allies.
Bill McKay, president of Space Coast Pride, criticized the board for a vote at its Feb. 8 meeting, with school board members Katye Campbell and Matt Susin voting against updates to the district’s non-discrimination policy.
Susin said he voted no because ongoing lawsuits could soon require the board to update its policy again, while Campbell said she did not vote for the policy because she feared its inclusion of LGBTQ status as a protected class could cement rules that allow transgender students to use bathrooms and changing rooms as the gender they identify with. LGBTQ people have been included in the non-discrimination policy since 2016.
“Let’s be clear, these actions by our board are a nod and a nod to those who would harm us,” McKay said. “What this board says and does has consequences, what this board says and does drips down. Positive and negative.”
But alongside the LGBTQ advocates at the meeting, people were concerned about school policies related to transgender students. One teacher, Matthew Woodside, attended the meeting to talk to the board about transgender students’ locker rooms and bathrooms.
He said parents should be aware that “boys who identify as girls use girls ‘toilets daily” and said he had been warned by the district to allow transgender students to use their identified genders’ bathrooms.
“When teachers like myself refuse to follow this unsafe and unethical directive, we get official announcements on BPS letterhead like this,” Woodside said, holding a sheet of paper in his hand. “It says that if I prevent students from using toilets or closets of the opposite biological sex, I could be subject to disciplinary action. So be it. Parents, you deserve to know what’s going on in your child’s school.”
The district’s current policy allows transgender students to use bathrooms and changing rooms according to their identified gender. School Board Chairman Misty Belford has said this is not due to the district’s non-discrimination policies, but is required based on civil cases and federal policy.