Clay superintendent opposes feds' directive on transgender bathroom access

Obama administration issues transgender access guidelines

CLAY COUNTY, Fla. – The superintendent of Clay County Schools announced Monday that biologically male and female students will be required to use their respective bathrooms and locker rooms.

Charlie Van Zant released the following statement:

"Good afternoon. This is Charlie Van Zant, your superintendent of schools. I would like to address the outpouring of concern I have received following the overreaching directive from the federal government last week on bathroom access for transgendered students.

"In Clay County Schools, biologically male and female students will be required to use their respective bathrooms, locker rooms, and other facilities made available for personal matters.

"This directive from the Obama administration does not carry the force of law, and you can be assured that we will not allow this intrusion by the federal government into your child’s school life.

"I am in communication with the Governor’s office, as well as our representative in Congress, to determine how the state of Florida will respond to this overreach of power.

"In the meantime, I will continue to honor my oath as superintendent to defend the Constitution and our state and federal laws as they are properly interpreted.

"Our priority in every aspect of our district operations is to apply common sense solutions that meet local needs and protect the safety and privacy of all students.

"Where an individual student requires special accommodation, discretion and the sound judgment of our school officials will guide our efforts to meet that student’s need.

"But make no mistake: we will not disregard the traditional family values shared by so many in our community in order to accommodate the demands of a very small minority.

"Clay County students are familiar with our tradition of observing Founders Week each year, so I leave you with words from Thomas Jefferson: “The several states composing the United States of America are not united on the principle of unlimited submission to their general government ... and whensoever the general government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force." These are timely words for the timeless principles we must now uphold.

"I hope this brings peace of mind to those who have contacted my office with their concerns over the past several days. As always, thank you for the trust you place in us with your children. May God bless each of you and your families."

Public schools must permit transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their chosen gender identity, according to an Obama administration directive issued amid a court fight between the federal government and North Carolina.

Duval County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Nikolai Vitti released a statement Friday saying the district would comply with the federal requirements:

"The school district will continue to adhere to federal requirements per Title IX which includes complying with regulations related to gender definition, gender identities and use of school bathrooms. We have historically problem-solved and developed solutions for situations regarding gender identity concerns for our students and staff. As a district, we will continue to provide guidance, procedures and additional training for school officials to ensure we are meeting all federal guidelines."

The guidance from leaders at the Education and Justice departments says public schools are obligated to treat transgender students in a way that matches their gender identity, even if their education records or identity documents indicate a different sex.

"There is no room in our schools for discrimination of any kind, including discrimination against transgender students on the basis of their sex," Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a statement accompanying the directive, which is being sent to school districts Friday.

In issuing the guidance, the Obama administration is wading anew into a socially divisive debate it has bluntly cast in terms of civil rights. The Justice Department on Monday sued North Carolina over a bathroom access law that it said violates the rights of transgender people, a measure that Lynch likened to policies of racial segregation and efforts to deny gay couples the right to marry.

A Duval County teacher is very pleased with the federal directive. Katherine Rankin's has a transgender son -- born a girl but now a male. He came out to her as transgender at age 17.

"As a gay woman, I've always said I don't have equal rights until my son has equal rights, so we are celebrating today," Rankin said. "If you saw my son in a female restroom, you would freak out. He looks like a man and identifies as a man. He doesn't belong in a female restroom. If he walks in the male restroom, no one gives him a second look."

The Obama administration's guidance does not impose any new legal requirements. But officials say it's meant to clarify expectations of school districts that receive funding from the federal government. Educators have been seeking guidance on how to comply with Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in educational programs and activities that receive federal funding, Education Secretary John B. King said in a statement.

"We must ensure that our young people know that whoever they are or wherever they come from, they have the opportunity to get a great education in an environment free from discrimination, harassment and violence," King said.

Duval County parents had mixed response to the directive.

“I just think that they are really innocent, especially this age. I think that people are kind of blowing it out of proportion,” Brittany Graybill said. “I’m much more worried about everywhere else in the world and all the other people out there, not who's using the restroom.”

Graybill said she doesn't see an issue with children using the restroom of the gender they identify with.

“All families are different and all people are different,” she said. “We treat them all the same.”

Graybill said she hopes her daughter also will be accepting of transgender people.

“I hope that it teaches our kids from day one really the need to be tolerant of each other and just love each other,” she said.

But other parents said they are worried about boys using a girls' restroom and vice versa, especially at the high school age.

“(It) makes me really nervous,” David Clark said. “I don't see how they're going to monitor that, and it just seems like it's going to be a mess and have everybody going in there. I think it'll make people feel very insecure.”

The reason for this guidance from the president is to help provide educators the information they need to ensure all students, including transgender students, can attend school in an environment free from discrimination based on sex.

Clark said he doesn't want anyone to be discriminated against, but he doesn't know how the schools will make the directive work and keep other students from a potentially uncomfortable situation.

“It's possible that they could come up with some sort of solution, but I just don't know what would really work to have a rule that applies to everybody, and I don't see how one rule could apply to everybody, other than the gender on your birth certificate,” Clark said.

Rankin said schools will monitor restroom use, as they always have.

"You have to have a hall pass. (A) teacher monitors how long you are gone. I don't see that as a concern," Rankin said. "As we say, you're been using the restroom beside transgender people all along and we didn't even know it."

Under the guidance, schools are told that they must treat transgender students according to their chosen gender identity as soon as a parent or guardian notifies the district that that identity "differs from previous representations or records." There is no obligation for a student to present a specific medical diagnosis or identification documents that reflect his or her gender identity, and equal access must be given to transgender students even in instances when it makes others uncomfortable, according to the directive.

"As is consistently recognized in civil rights cases, the desire to accommodate others' discomfort cannot justify a policy that singles out and disadvantages a particular class of students," the guidance says.

The administration is also releasing a separate 25-page document of questions and answers about best practices, including ways schools can make transgender students comfortable in the classroom and protect the privacy rights of all students in restrooms or locker rooms.

The move was cheered by Human Rights Campaign, a gay, lesbian and transgender civil rights organization, which called the guidelines "groundbreaking."

"This is a truly significant moment not only for transgender young people but for all young people, sending a message that every student deserves to be treated fairly and supported by their teachers and schools," HRC President Chad Griffin said in a statement.

The guidance comes days after the Justice Department and North Carolina filed dueling lawsuits over a new state law that says transgender people must use public bathrooms, showers and changing rooms that correspond to the sex on their birth certificate. The administration has said the law violates the Civil Rights Act.

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory has argued that the state law is a "commonsense privacy policy" and that the Justice Department's position is "baseless and blatant overreach." His administration sued the federal government hours before the state itself was sued.


Status of Transgender "Bathroom Bill" Legislation | InsideGov


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Lifetime Floridian anchors weekends and reports weekdays on issues in Nassau and Baker counties and beyond.