Florida schools required to provide bathrooms based on biological sex under new rule

Students walk past a protest sign on a bathroom which helped lobby for the first gender-neutral restroom in the Los Angeles school district at Santee Education Complex high school in Los Angeles, California, U.S., April 18, 2016. | Reuters/Lucy Nicholson

Florida education officials have passed a new rule requiring public and charter schools to allow students to access bathrooms and locker rooms based on biological sex rather than preferred gender identity. 

The Florida Board of Education approved a new rule unanimously last Wednesday that, among other things, requires public and charter schools to restrict trans-identified youth from using facilities based on their gender identity without notifying parents and making a public announcement online.

"If a school board or charter school governing board has a policy or procedure that allows for separation of bathrooms or locker rooms according to some criteria other than biological sex at birth, the policy or procedure must be posted on the district's website or charter school's website, and must be sent by mail to student residences to fully inform parents," reads the new rule, in part.

"School board and charter school governing board policies or procedures must include accommodations or modifications in order to ensure that all students have an opportunity to use a bathroom or locker room separated by biological sex at birth."

Board of Education Chairman Thomas R. Grady said in a statement that the rule is more about "parental notification."

"It's not mandating what a particular bathroom looks like or doesn't look like or who can use it," Grady said after the adoption, according to The Hill.

LGBT advocacy groups and activists, such as Nikole Parker from Equality Florida, are critical of the new rule.  

"This proposed rule is designed to intimidate school districts from following federal guidance, making schools less safe and adding fuel to a politically motivated crusade against LGBTQ youth and their families," said Parker, quoted by The Tampa Bay Times. 

Socially conservative groups and activists, such as Jessica Tillman, chairperson of the Seminole County chapter of Moms for Liberty, support the new rule. 

"Not just girls, not just boys, all students need to feel safe in the bathrooms and in their locker rooms. We need to let parents know how they are being monitored," said Tillman, according to The Tampa Bay Times.

In March, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill to prohibit public schools and third parties from discussing sexual orientation and gender identity with students between kindergarten and the third grade.

The bill also requires school districts to adopt procedures to notify parents about changes affecting their child's mental, physical and emotional health and prevents school districts from withholding information from parents.

"Parents' rights have been increasingly under assault around the nation, but in Florida we stand up for the rights of parents and the fundamental role they play in the education of their children," stated DeSantis earlier this year.

"Parents have every right to be informed about services offered to their child at school, and should be protected from schools using classroom instruction to sexualize their kids as young as 5 years old."

The law came amid concerns from conservative advocacy and policy groups like The Heritage Foundation that some school districts in the U.S. weren't informing parents if their child was identifying as the opposite gender.

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