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School board reviews bathroom access policies for LGBTQ+: “We don’t have wiggle room”

Dr. Anntwanique Edwards

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

At the December 8 Alachua County School Board workshop, the board heard a presentation on the LGBTQ+ Critical Support Guide from Dr. Anntwanique Edwards, the Chief of Equity, Inclusion, and Community Engagement for the School District. The Guide, which is summarized below, can be viewed here.

Dr. Edwards said the Critical Support Guide Workgroup was established in the summer of 2019 to create this plan, and it has already been in schools; this is an update that aligns it with board policies, state law, and federal law. Small group discussions were held with community leaders, students, teachers, parents, and administrators. 

Edwards said the most important section of the Guide is the one covering “8 actions to ensure the safety and wellbeing of LGBTQ+ youth.” She said that’s because “that’s what students, parents, teachers, our educators want to know: what is being expected of us as we move forward?”

Edwards started with the district’s mission statement, which is to be “committed to the success of every student,” and she said that involves asking three questions: Do students feel safe and included? Do we understand statewide and national data as it pertains to this particular community of youth? Do we have a response to devastating outcomes?

She continued, “Statewide and national data make clear that LGBTQ students are disproportionately at risk for exclusion, bullying, harassment, self-harm, and absenteeism, each of which contributes to poor academic outcomes. However, these devastating outcomes can be addressed by a school environment that fosters inclusion, values diversity, and protects the rights of all its students, including its lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning and/or queer, and gender-nonconforming students.”

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“We don’t get to make certain choices about things, even if we have some disagreements, and so as we move forward, [we need to] help our educators understand that students who are in the LGBTQ+ community face discrimination, stigmatization, bullying, and worse. This Guide reflects the school district’s compelling interest in ensuring that students have a productive and safe learning environment.” – Dr. Edwards

The Guide is intended to provide consistent implementation, alignment with existing laws and policies concerning harassment and discrimination, context for understanding hardship for students, and a focus on prioritizing safe learning environments. Edwards added, “We don’t get to make certain choices about things, even if we have some disagreements, and so as we move forward, [we need to] help our educators understand that students who are in the LGBTQ+ community face discrimination, stigmatization, bullying, and worse. This Guide reflects the school district’s compelling interest in ensuring that students have a productive and safe learning environment.”

The 8 actions

  1. Student privacy: “All students’ privacy rights will be respected, and personal information about the student, including their sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression, will not be shared without the students’ or parents’ consent.” Edwards said, “Our goal within our district is not to remove our conversations with parents… We’re always wanting to be inclusive in conversation with parents when we can be, and we want to have opportunities where we are encouraging families to be partners in speaking to each other, but we do have privacy rights that must be protected for students regarding their gender orientation and identity.” She said that adding fields such as “AKA” to Skyward makes sure “that they recognize that they can utilize affirming names and still be protected within their classes or schools.” 
  2. Names and pronouns: “All students are to be referred to by their consistently-asserted name and pronoun(s) as provided by the student, affirming their identity.” Edwards said, “When we talk about affirming names, we have to be very mindful that those names are not affirmed based on what adults think about kids, but they’re affirmed by the experiences kids have and what they would like to be called or considered… There are three words that are utilized, and that’s ‘insistently,’ ‘consistently,’ and ‘persistently’… When it is consistently asserted that someone wants to be utilized by a different name, we want to honor that.”
  3. Restrooms/Locker Rooms: “All students are allowed to access restrooms and locker rooms that are consistent with their gender identity or be provided appropriate accommodations. If accommodations are desired, decisions should be made on a case-by-case basis, and should be student driven, with the support of district staff and participation of parents where possible and appropriate.” Edwards added, “I do recognize that this is a big concern for many people… If someone who affirms themself to be of a different gender identity than what you might suppose–If you’re looking at someone, you’ve always seen them to be male and they are now describing themselves as female, and they want to use a female restroom, that has to be given to them as an opportunity. Other students who feel uncomfortable in that female restroom must also be given an opportunity to go elsewhere if they so choose, so that they, too, feel safe and comfortable, but we cannot deny students who are in LGBTQ community of the opportunity to utilize a bathroom that they most identify with, as it relates to their consistently-asserted name. The same is true of locker rooms.”
  4. Dress Code: “All students may dress in ways that are consistent with their gender identity and/or gender expression, while still abiding by the district’s dress code policy, including at any school sponsored events and functions. The district’s dress code must be enforced equally and in a non-discriminatory manner.” 
  5. GSAs: “All students have the right to form and participate in a GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance or Gender-Sexuality Alliance) under the name ‘GSA’ or another name decided upon by the students.” Edwards added, “And I think that it’s important for the general public to recognize that every person who is in a GSA is not necessarily, you know, gay or lesbian or bisexual. There are straight students in GSAs, and we have students who actually participated in this discussion who were definitely heterosexual but wanted to be supportive of students who were not identifying themselves in the same manner.”
  6. Gender-Based Rules: “As a general matter, schools should evaluate all gender-based rules, practices, and traditions, and maintain only those that have a clear and sound pedagogical purpose. If students are to be separated based on gender, students should be permitted to be grouped with peers of the gender with which they identify. This should be a student driven decision based on the student’s comfort and safety, with the support of district staff and parents where possible and appropriate.” Edwards added, “The easiest manner to do this is not assign groups by any gender at all, to look at groupings based on how students are performing, where their strengths are, where their weaknesses are, but not whether they are male, female, or different.”
  7. Participation in Athletics: “Students have the right to be treated in accordance with their gender identity in all aspects of the school environment. The district must carefully navigate areas where state laws, such as Fla. Stat. §1006.205, conflict with federal protections, such as Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause.” Edwards added, “That’s where it gets kind of fuzzy for some people because the state and the federal government don’t always agree on everything, and so there are some differences in how things are outlined, and so there has to be careful navigation as we approach the subject of athletics, ensuring that we follow the statute but we are also supporting students.”
  8. LGBTQ+ Faculty and Staff: “Faculty and staff are protected from discrimination under district, state, and federal laws.” 

“If you’re looking at someone, you’ve always seen them to be male and they are now describing themselves as female, and they want to use a female restroom, that has to be given to them as an opportunity. Other students who feel uncomfortable in that female restroom must also be given an opportunity to go elsewhere if they so choose, so that they, too, feel safe and comfortable, but we cannot deny students who are in LGBTQ community of the opportunity to utilize a bathroom that they most identify with, as it relates to their consistently-asserted name. The same is true of locker rooms.” – Dr. Edwards

Edwards then presented some statistics from the Florida Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 2019: “Among lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) high school students: 18.1% did not go to school because they felt unsafe; 19.5% experienced electronic bullying (i.e., cyber bullying); 58.2% felt sad or hopeless; 36.2% seriously considered attempting suicide; 23.4% actually attempted suicide (compared to 6.4% of their heterosexual peers).” She added that 18.2% of Florida students identify as being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender, and “of our students who are within LGBTQ community, 55% of them in the course of the day might be thinking about taking their life. That’s pretty startling… This number should be frightening to people in general.”

Edwards said the goal is to have “100% of our students being in places 100% of the time, on every campus in our district, feeling that they are supported in a safe learning environment.” She said the next steps are to provide resources, adopt the Guide and Support Plan, share the Guide with all staff, provide professional development, and utilize the Support Plan. She added, “A question was asked of me by more than one person about what we are trying to teach, or what we are trying to move forward. I am not teaching lifestyle; I am not persuading or pushing lifestyle of any individual student. I don’t tell kids to be homosexual or heterosexual. What I do as an educator is say that while you’re in our schools, I want for you to have an environment that says that you can perform at your best, and so this guide is simply to provide supports, resources, and tools for the educators that allow for our students to be best performing.”

“A lot of students don’t want to talk to an adult counselor who’s a stranger to them, they especially don’t want to talk to their male teachers, so I’m concerned about their mental health if they’re going through this, and they’re in their restroom or locker room, and a biological male is in there as well. I think it’s a potentially harmful situation to the female students… While we’re assuring that every student feels safe, we need to consider our female students in their restrooms and locker rooms, and their mental health.” – Board Member Mildred Russell

Board Member Mildred Russell asked, “I know other people have concerns about restrooms and locker rooms; that’s a concern of mine, as well… If you think about that, for a smaller group of people, we’re putting a larger group of people at potential risk of mental health issues because maybe while they’re going through these changes that can be very difficult for a young woman, when she’s transitioning…[from a young girl] into becoming a woman, it can make her insecure… A lot of students don’t want to talk to an adult counselor who’s a stranger to them, they especially don’t want to talk to their male teachers, so I’m concerned about their mental health if they’re going through this, and they’re in their restroom or locker room, and a biological male is in there as well. I think it’s a potentially harmful situation to the female students, and from the recent events in Virginia, we know that it can be very harmful and devastating to our female students to have biological males in their restrooms or in their locker rooms… While we’re assuring that every student feels safe, we need to consider our female students in their restrooms and locker rooms, and their mental health.”

Edwards replied, “It’s a difficult situation… But I think at the end of the day, what’s most important for us is to make sure that we are considering, as you have stated, the mental health and wellbeing of all students.”

Russell asked what support plan is in place for female students who “may feel threatened by a male being in the bathroom, or they may just feel uncomfortable—whatever it is, it doesn’t matter—if they feel unsafe or at risk with males in the bathrooms.”

Edwards responded, “As we do with any students who feel bullied on any given issue, we follow the process that we have in the district, and it’s case by case.”

Russell continued, “And if there are students who just won’t go into the restroom or the locker room because of that feeling of being unsafe… that is a big problem for them… We need to make sure that those students are considered and accommodated, as well.”

Edwards said, “Absolutely. All students must be accommodated. I agree with you 100%. When we talk about accommodations for students, they’re all individual. And so it depends on what is happening with that given student, what that concern is, what that school building looks like, what those facilities are, who are the persons who are in place… There isn’t going to be a magic answer… but we take information as we receive it, and we work out the best plan for those students, as needed… Realistically, we have to follow the process for anti-harassment and bullying and work with families and their students to provide the best supports that we can.”

“It’s based on what the law says. So we didn’t, just, like, determine this… Although we have a plan for our district and some things might look different, it is still based on what the law says. And so we don’t have wiggle room… We have to give those students, by law, the opportunity to choose, if they so choose, to go to a male or female restroom” – Dr. Edwards

Edwards added, “It’s based on what the law says. So we didn’t, just, like, determine this… Although we have a plan for our district and some things might look different, it is still based on what the law says. And so we don’t have wiggle room… For instance, in the past, what we have done as a district, if a student who was in the LGBTQ community said that ‘I want to have a different restroom,’ we would say, ‘You can use the restroom in the clinic. You can use the restroom that is… this open restroom for both men and for women. You can go at certain times.’ But we are not protected, following that plan. We have to give those students, by law, the opportunity to choose, if they so choose, to go to a male or female restroom, to do that… We then have to say, ‘Now, since you are using that restroom, now if there is another student who is uncomfortable because you are using this restroom, we now have to provide you with an alternative,’ but I can’t take away this student’s rights in order to do that… Again, this wasn’t a decision that we just came up with, it’s how we were guided through the laws and policies.”

School Board Chair Rob Hyatt asked Board Attorney David Delaney about the status of court cases on the issue. Delaney said there’s a case in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, a step below the Supreme Court, that was initially favorable at the trial court level to a biological male student from Nease High School who wanted to use the girls’ restroom. The school offered use of a single-stall bathroom, but the student did not find that to be satisfactory and sued. The initial decision from the 11th Circuit was favorable to the student but is being reconsidered by a full panel of all the judges of the 11th Circuit. “It’s an area of law that’s evolving.” He said the plan for any student who feels uncomfortable is to talk to an administrator or school counselor, and they will come up with a plan to address the concern.

Board Member Tina Certain asked if there have been students affected by the state law that says biological boys can’t play girls’ sports. Edwards says there hasn’t been an issue in our school district.

Hyatt said he wanted to emphasize that “this is in no way new for our district… Most school districts in Florida are doing this, and I think there is no room for anything but support for these students. There’s a generation gap here… Young people… this is acceptable, to the vast majority… If you look at these young people and you look at statistics… these are real numbers. So I think this is very important… As educators, it is our duty to make sure that all students are welcomed as a vital part of their community… I in no way dismiss Mrs. Russell’s concerns; I think the only way we make progress is if we discuss concerns openly, and so that’s entirely important.”

  • Let me catch a male in my daughters locker room..he would find out what God given gender he is..

    • Agree. If she’d wiggle her axd of the throne and go research places that don’t go along with this nonsense she’d find out there is plenty of wiggle/giggle room for her butt and everyone else’s to do the right thing.

  • This is complete liberal BS. Biological boys should not be using the girls restroom.

    • Yeah, if they really want to use it I think we can find someone to cut it off so that they can conform.

  • The mentally ill used to be confined in mental institutions. Now they are free to invade bathrooms and locker rooms under cover of a deranged BS story promulgated to justify their warped minds. And we have to pay crackpot “experts” who ensure their “inclusion” in places where they do not belong. We must simply accept the fact that America has become a cesspool society of deranged psychopaths and freaks all of whom demand special consideration and accommodation when the best accommodation would be a straight jacket and a padded cell.

    • Xx is girl. Xy is boy. Sex them at next Covid swab test.
      Make em wear Uniforms in public schools too. Case solved.

  • And the degradation of American societal values continues…

    Now it’s happening at the some of the earliest of impressionable stages in our children’s lives.

  • American Indians? Mean Other Medical Indian FEMA Crews? (How many other murders do they 2022 Diversity Do? How dare you, we are Hitlery Clinton Witch Hoping To Always 365 Witch Crew You with Evil Vaxx Upon Children We Selectively DoD Do…)

  • when building new schools or remodeling old ones we need to address these challenges! One answer is to eliminate “girls” & “boys” multi-person toilets but like Starbucks & teacher’s lounge provide single-person private toilets with no gender designation.
    The total toiles remain the same but in-lieu of “stalls” small private water-closets would serve students regardless of sexual identity / orientation. This would also solve the potential issue of homosexuals mixed with “straights”
    I would’ve preferred some privacy in school over using a “stall” like a farm animal!

  • There are other more reasonable options: a port-o-let outside the school building for students not comfortable with their biology; special ed. public schools that already exist for misfits (Lofton, and AQ Jones). Stop lowering standards to accommodate everybody.

    • Umm…Lofton is not for misfits. It’s a very competitive magnet program school. Check your facts. What it may have been historically is no longer what it is.

  • My birth certificate erroneously lists me as female.
    Tag agency would not let me renew DL as male without “proof.”
    I have male pattern baldness, full beard, an Adam’s apple, hairy chest, enlarged prostate, ex-wife, wife and 3 children who call me dad.
    My DL now lists me as female.

    • My birth certificate identifies me as a white male
      But I feel like a black man…I ‘m transracial…so,
      We need to trash the whole equity theory thing now.
      We need to do away with EO or Equity charter officer
      With the city now..

      • Government is gonna be loaded up with a bunch
        Of weirdo goofballs like the Rocky horror picture show…

      • That’s right. The best qualified should get the job.
        Not because of race or sexual identity.

  • Let’s use the scientific method: How about use the bathroom based on chromosomes:
    XX (girl)bathrooms & XY(boy)bathrooms…they can easily find
    Out if you’re XX or XY when they get their next Covid
    Swab test…I think Brandon said those tests are free
    Now…Bernie Sanders likes that free stuff too … then we make the school kids all wear Uniforms based on
    Their chromosomal designation too.

  • Want to know why our kids can’t read, write or do basic math? Because THIS is what our school boards focus on!

  • What would Solomon say?
    Make the bathrooms unisex.
    That way everyone would be considered equal.
    Municipalities, restaurants and corporations are already doing this.

  • CDC = Military entity proudly leashed to other military entities spraying USA skies openly for all humans to breathe and see

  • There is a simple solution. Make all facilities unisex. Just require everyone to wear a mask over their groin 24/7. If we don’t know what gender anyone is, no one can be offended.

    • Just have a few extra individual bathrooms with a Snowflake symbol on the door instead of Boys or Girls. They could have posters of puppies, pillows, and other traditional safe space accoutrements.

  • Personally, I am horrified by the march toward mixed, unisex bathrooms (as opposed to single-person restrooms that could be used one at a time by either sex). I have enough of a problem getting my body to “let go” and pee in public bathrooms when there are loud conversations by other women going on right outside the stall I’m in. If I heard male voices, it wouldn’t matter how badly I needed to go; I simply would not physically be able to do it. This may sound ridiculous, but it it’s a very real problem for me and others.

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