A Florida school district is reversing its policy allowing students to choose bathrooms based on “gender identity” rather than their biological sex.
The Nov. 22 decision by the Brevard County School Board reversed a policy made explicit in an internal memo to staff in March 2021.
In the memo, the district had provided guidance on eight action items regarding LGBTQ+ students, with “Action 3” reading: “All students are allowed to access locker rooms and restrooms that are consistent with their gender identity or be provided appropriate accommodations. If accommodations are desired, decisions should be student-driven and with district support on a case-by-case basis.”
But ultimately, the board decided to return the district to its previous policy, using biological sex to determine bathroom and locker room use.
Board member Matt Susin, who was also elected as the board’s chair on Tuesday, emphasized the decision is “not a new direction.”
“All the board basically did was say we’re going to go back to what we had prior to that document coming out,” he said, according to Florida Today.
The policy discussion was the most animated time of the meeting, which also included the questioning of Superintendent Mark Mullins’ leadership by newly elected conservative board members Megan Wright and Gene Trent. Similarly conservative school board candidates were elected across the state on Nov. 8, backed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, who also won reelection by a staggering 20%.
“We have lost our focus on what we’re supposed to be doing, and we’re only as strong as our leaders are,” newly elected board member Wright said. “I have respect for our superintendent, but the public’s perception, Dr. Mullins, is that you are the leader and what they’re calling for is a strong leader.”
Mullins voluntarily stepped down before a possible contract action could be brought to a vote, agreeing with the board to enter into separation negotiations. The board called for Mullins to begin enforcing the bathroom policy immediately before his exit is finalized.
While two board members opposed the superintendent’s exit, only one board member opposed Tuesday’s bathroom ruling. Board member Jennifer Jenkins spoke out against the ruling during the meeting, comparing it to racial segregation in the 1950s.
“This isn’t just about bathrooms,” she said. “It was never about bathrooms back in the ’50s, just like it wasn’t about water fountains. We are here to do good and not evil as we serve the children of Brevard County.”
Misty Belford, the former board member replaced by Wright, claimed the ruling would open up the district to lawsuits and a loss of funding if proposed expansions regarding transgender students to Title IX eventually pass.
However, in July, a lawsuit filed by 20 states’ attorneys general led to a federal judge blocking the proposed changes to Title IX, on the basis that the changes infringed on states’ rights.
Other board members say their decision lines up with a new rule from Florida’s State Board of Education requiring districts to notify parents if schools have any policy that allows children to access facilities by any determiner other than “biological sex at birth” and requires access to facilities separated by biological sex for students.
Board member Katye Campbell referenced this rule during the meeting.
“I believe now would be a good time to clarify with the superintendent and staff that this board wants to move in the direction of … lining up with this (rule),” she said. “We don’t have to send out a letter, we can just use biological sex at birth as a determiner.”
Campbell also expressed a desire to find ways to accommodate transgender students on a case-by-case basis.
“My intention – and I hope I can get the board to agree with this – is that we move with all compassion and respect and kindness for our students.”