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Duval School Board To Discuss Transgender Bathroom Access Lawsuit

Lindsey Kilbride


Credit Lindsey Kilbride / WJCT News

Updated 11:53 a.m.

The Duval County Public School Board will meet privately to discuss a lawsuit against its policy of allowing transgender students to use restrooms matching their identified gender.

Private “shade” meetings are allowed under Sunshine Law when the body is discussing litigation.

Recent guidelines sent to school districts from the Departments of Justice and Education say the federal law Title IXprohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, including gender identity.

Duval County’s anti-discrimination policy is in line with federal guidelines on transgender rights because it is inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students.

In a recent interview on First Coast Connect, Duval Superintendent NikolaiVittisaid transgender students have been allowed to use restrooms corresponding with their gender identity.

“Over the past several years we’ve had transgender students come forward, usually at the school level — and that issue bubbles up to the district level so that we can problem solve to make sure that we can accommodate students,” Vitti said.

Last week, a parent sued the district, saying it makes her children unsafe.

At Monday's school board workshop, people on both sides of the debate addressed the board.

Duval parent Susan Thompson quoted an article published by a rape victim who believes transgender people should only use single-occupancy restrooms to ensure women’s safety, theorizing a man could pretend to be transgender to gain access to the women's restroom.

But Equality Florida’s Amber Paoloemilio says there’s no need to theorize because Duval has been allowing trans students to use restrooms matching their gender identity without incident since 2012.  

“Removing any policy that you already have comes at a real risk of suicide and a horrible effect to LGBT kids,” she said. “Why change a policy based on an imagined outcome when we already know the outcome.”

Board member and state-representative candidate Jason Fischer said last week the board should change its policy to restrict restroom use to students’ biological sex. But he has not filed legislation that would make that change.

Jon Phillips, from the city’s Office of General Counsel, advised board members Monday to discuss negotiations and strategy related to the lawsuit in a shade meeting before offering any policy changes.

“From a prudential standpoint it would better for each of you to be briefed and brought up to complete speed about the current legal situation before you would finalize a (new) policy,” he said.

He said he doesn't want to district to have to defend a Department of Justice lawsuit.

Correction:  This article has been updated with information from the  Duval County Public School Board about Monday's shade meeting. According to spokeswoman Laureen Ricks, the meeting was about bargaining and human resources. A shade meeting about the lawsuitagainst its policy of allowing transgender students to use restrooms matching their identified genderwill take place at a later date.

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Lindsey Kilbride joined WJCT News in 2015 after completing the radio documentary program at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, Maine.