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St. Johns County school district loses appeal against transgender student

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – It’s been five years since the day Andrew Adams says he was forbidden from going into the boy’s bathroom at Nease High School in St. Johns County.

Instead, he was given a neutral gender bathroom. He remembers being reprimanded.

“They told me that the only reason that I was there was because I used the men’s bathroom and I was very confused. I thought, who cares?” Adams said.

After years of battling for his right in court, an appellate level judge ruled in his favor last week.

Tara Borelli was apart of Adams’ legal team.

“We are so excited about the decision. It does such a beautiful job of recognizing the inherent dignity and worth of transgender students and their right to equal educational opportunity,” said Borelli, Counsel Lambda Legal, Southern Regional Office.

Adams also filed a complaint against the St. Johns County School District with the Florida Department of Education but no decision has been made.

Local attorney Randy Reep, not affiliated with the case, said Monday this case sets a legal standard in human rights for transgender people.

“Adams versus St. Johns School Board will be the case that we rely on tomorrow in Duval County, next week in Leon County and forever and always in the state of Florida in this circuit. It is a fantastic, interesting rule,” said Reep, of Reep Law.

For Adams, he is living life as a college student at the University of Central Florida and ready to change the world for the better as a therapist to help of transgender teens live in a world that is not always accepting of everyone.

“I am really hopeful that this case will bring a lot of change to students in the tri-state area now,” adds Adams.

Adams said he’s had a lot of teens reach out to him thanking him for his courage to speak out.

The St. Johns County School Board fought the case twice.

In 2018, a federal judge in Jacksonville ruled in favor of Adams, a transgender student who sued the St. Johns County school district over a policy that required him to use a gender-neutral bathroom on campus, instead of the boy’s bathroom.

Following the district court judge’s ruling, the St. Johns County School District appealed the decision, to the Atlanta-based 11th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals.

The court ruled in favor of Adams with a 2-to-1 vote on Friday citing a previous Supreme Court ruling that protects workers from being discriminated against.

He successfully sued the St. Johns County School Board in 2017.

The district said the cost of this litigation is being covered by FSBIT (Florida School Boards Insurance Trust), not the school board or school district.

In response to the recent appellate court decision, the school board said, “We are still in pending litigation so it remains inappropriate to comment on or try this case in the media.”

The School Board would make any decisions about whether to appeal or not.

JASMYN Director of Policy Dan Merkan sent News4Jax the following statement on Monday:

“We are proud of Drew Adams and his family for standing up against discrimination. Mr. Adams victory in the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit has affirmed that it was illegal for the Saint Johns County School Board to use his transgender status as a reason to restrict his restroom access. We hope the Saint Johns County School Board will accept the ruling of the court and immediately begin implementing policies that will respect the dignity of the many transgender and gender non-conforming students in their district.”


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