School districts respond differently to federal directive on transgender restroom, locker room use


The Duval, Clay and St. Johns county school districts have all adopted different stances on the Obama administration’s recent directive stating that school districts that don’t allow transgender students to use bathroom and locker room facilities consistent with their gender identity risk jeopardizing their receipt of federal funds.

In an eight-page letter sent jointly by the Department of Justice and Department of Education, the Obama administration noted that “as a condition of receiving federal funds, a school agrees that it will not exclude, separate, deny benefits to or otherwise treat differently on the basis of sex any person in its educational programs or activities.”

With regard to school restrooms and locker rooms, the letter stated, “A school may provide separate facilities on the basis of sex, but must allow transgender students access to such facilities consistent with their gender identity.”

Local response

After Duval County pledged to comply with the federal directive, a lawsuit was filed by state attorney candidate Wes White on behalf of a mother of four Duval County public school students. In Clay County, meanwhile, Superintendent Charlie Van Zant Jr. posted a YouTube video assuring parents that the school district would not follow the directive.

“This direction from the Obama administration does not carry the force of law,” Van Zant said, “and you can be assured that we will not allow the intrusion by the federal government into your child’s school life.”

Saying that he had received an “outpouring of concern” over the issue, Van Zant added that “biologically male and female students will be required to use their respective bathrooms, locker rooms and other facilities made available for their personal use."

The response by the St. Johns County School District was less definitive. In a statement issued last week, Superintendent Joseph Joyner said, “I am committed to doing what is right for each and every child. We believe our current practice is lawful and reasonable in that we provide gender neutral restroom facilities to accommodate privacy and safety for all students as needed or requested.

“There has been no binding decision made on schools in Florida and I, along with our school board, will continue to follow the development on this guidance and make adjustments to our current practice only if necessary,” the statement continued. “Again, my focus remains on the needs of the individual child.”

A school district spokesperson declined repeated requests for further comment or clarification on how the district currently provides gender-neutral facilities, or whether that policy is in conflict with the White House’s directive, which states, “A school may not require transgender students to use facilities inconsistent with their gender identity or to use individual-user facilities when other students are not required to do so.”