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The Hillsborough school district is working to get into compliance with education laws

Hillsborough school district board meeting in a large room, with all of the board members in front of a long table, and the crowd with their backs to the image staring at the board members.
Hillsborough County School District
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The two policies the state refers to for Hillsborough are connected to the district's racial equity policy addressing institutional racism, and its access to bathrooms, gender pronoun, and coming out confidentiality policies.

Senior Chancellor Jacob Oliva said Hillsborough County is planning a full review of all policies and procedures to ensure compliance.

The State Board of Education says Hillsborough County school officials are working with the state to get into compliance regarding a pair of policies surrounding the district's racial equity and LGBTQ+ support guidelines.

The policies are connected to the district's racial equity policy addressing institutional racism, and its access to bathrooms, gender pronoun, and coming-out confidentiality policies.

Both no longer align with the state's new "Stop WOKE Act" and parental rights law that critics have dubbed "Don't Say Gay."

During a state education board call Wednesday, Senior Chancellor Jacob Oliva said Hillsborough County is planning a full review of all policies and procedures to ensure compliance.

According to Oliva, the school district does not yet have an official timeline on when they'll be updated.

At a Tuesday Hillsborough School Board meeting, some board members attributed being out of compliance with the county's lack of in-house legal counsel compared with other districts in the state.

“We need a full-time attorney,” school board member Lynn Gray said. “We've needed it for a long time; we need the protection. If we don't, board members, a class-action suit very much could happen, especially being out of compliance."

Board chair Nadia Combs echoed Gray, saying Hillsborough is one of the only school districts in the state without the additional resource.

“I was shocked that an entity this large that oversees $4 billion does not have in-house counsel,” Combs said. “I was very surprised. And as I look around, if you look at the top districts around the country, every single one of them have an in-house attorney.”

But school board member Jessica Vaughn says the lack of clarity regarding the new laws has less to do with legal staff, and more to do with the state.

"Instead of working with us to give us time of exactly what they want, and giving us that in the letter, instead we get a notification that we're out of compliance, and we're going to be made an example of a board of education,” Vaughn said. “To me that's not a partnership."

“I've spoken to people in other counties. I have friends on other school boards, including Orange County, and they're in just as much confusion as we are, whether they have one lawyer or 10 lawyers trying to disseminate the information of exactly what's being asked for.”

Oliva sent a letter to Hillsborough County Superintendent Addison Davis on Nov. 18 outlining the two policies out of compliance.

“After initial review of the policies and procedures submitted by Hillsborough County Public Schools, it appears that some of these policies or procedures may not have been updated to comply with revised Florida law and State Board of Education rule,” the letter reads.

The current school district guidelines for racial equity in question reads as: “Hillsborough County Public Schools (HCPS) students deserve respectful learning environments in which their racial and ethnic diversity is valued and contributes to successful academic outcomes. This policy confronts the institutional racism that results in predictably lower academic achievement for students of color than for their white peers. Understanding and addressing institutional racism will increase achievement, including on-time graduation, for ALL students, while narrowing the gaps between the highest and lowest-performing students."

Meanwhile, the policy on LGBTQ+ support reads as: “III. Creating Safe and Supportive Environments - A. Access to Restrooms and Sex-Segregated Facilities, B. Affirmed Names and Gender Pronouns, D. Coming Out and Confidentiality.”

The Hillsborough School District will look at updating its policies, along with the potential need for more legal counsel, at a workshop on Jan. 17.

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