Clay County school board approves bathroom policy targeting transgender students

Zoey Fields

The Clay County school board passed a policy Thursday requiring students to use bathrooms and locker rooms based on their assigned sex at birth; banning students from using facilities that align with their gender identity unless they seek out administrative permission.

The policy passed unanimously, though, board member Mary Bolla begrudgingly voted “yes” after being told she was not allowed to abstain from voting.

Bolla voiced issues with the bathroom policy and could be seen shaking her head as fellow school board member Erin Skipper said the policy was “common sense” and that these issues “did not exist several years ago.”

“There have been incidents across the country and locally, where students are in danger of sexual assault in restrooms,” Skipper told NewsBreak. “For example, I think it was in Virginia where a transgender went into a girl’s restroom and two girls were raped. I am in favor of this policy because it favors the safety of all students.”

Skipper also said that the large majority of the district’s disciplinary hearings, regardless of gender, stem from incidents that take place in the bathrooms.

During Thursday’s meeting, however, Superintendent David Broskie said that in his 34 years with the school district there has not been a single issue in the school bathrooms. Broskie was not available for immediate comment regarding the discrepancy.

Bolla, and several speakers from the audience, disagreed with Skipper.

“My concern with this particular ‘policy’ with an attachment of a punishment is that we are punishing some of our most vulnerable students,” Bolla said. “These vulnerable students have gone through a lot in their lives. They've not had the support that a lot of our daughters and sons have had [...] It concerns me deeply that we are going to push some of our vulnerable students even deeper into that vulnerability.”

School board Attorney Bruce Bickner explained that the school board must present documentation to the state no later than April 1, 2024, proving their policy adheres to the new law—specifically subsections four and five outlining the requirements to have clearly labeled “male,” “female” or “unisex” bathrooms and locker rooms.

The option to make all school restrooms “unisex” was discussed, but the board took no action entertaining that route (even though it would technically adhere to Florida’s new law, Bickner said).

“I’ve already asked that the business services and operations departments make certain that any, any, singular bathroom be listed as literally just that—restroom,” Bolla said. “No male, no female. If it is a single-use bathroom, please make sure that the signage in every single one of our buildings be changed so that everybody may use them.”

Bolla went on to detail a time that a single-use “women’s” restroom was occupied and, so, she went into the “men’s” single-use restroom.

“There are times when we have to step out of that comfort zone and we have to say ‘it’s okay,’” Bolla said. “I hope that as we move forward, we realize that we have 40,000+ students and they are all not cookie cutter students. They are all individuals, they all have differences and we need to celebrate those differences and keep an open mind to their needs.”

It is unknown at this time if or when the district’s single-use restroom signage would be changed to be entirely unisex.

The school board’s new bathroom policy states: students, or the student’s parents, requesting any exception to the policy, or different consideration for any reason, may, upon approval by the school or building administration, use any gender neutral, single stall/private accommodation which is available.

Click here to view the policy in full.
The Clay County school district's new bathroom policy will go into effect at the start of the 2023-2024 school year.Photo byClay County District Schools

If a student violates the policy without first being granted permission from the school, the offense will be considered a Level 2 violation of the student Code of Conduct.

According to the student Code of Conduct, a Level 2 violation is classified as a “major offense” and can result in consequences, not limited to just one, such as the loss of privileges, school detention, in-school suspension for up to 10 days, out-of-school suspension for up to 10 days, bus suspension for up to 10 days and/or consultation with law enforcement.

Click here to view the Clay County District Schools’ Code of Conduct.

Madison Hilt, a lifelong Clay County resident and graduate of Middleburg High school, is a transgender woman who said the policy would limit targeted students to three options—humiliate and publicly “out” themselves, risk conflict in the bathrooms forced upon them by the policy (adhering to their sex at birth) or violate the policy for the sake of their comfort and get punished

Hilt said transgender students are going to have a “massively increased risk” for being assaulted by their peers just because they look different.

“I’m pretty sure that in public if I walk into a men’s restroom, I am going to get the mess beat out of me because somebody thinks I’m some sort of sick freak or something,” she said.

Hilt also took issue with punishments being ranked as a Level 2 violation. She said this is the same sort of punishment someone would face if they vandalized school property, stole from school property or verbally assaulted someone.

“In my entire life here, working in government and working with y’all, I’ve never had anything but people trying to unify. Let’s unify please. Let’s treat people like people,” she said.

Former Clay County Charter Review Commission member DeAnn Dockery also addressed the board with concerns about the new policy, noting that it does not outline rules for school personnel, training for personnel, how to communicate the policy to students and their families, how to enforce the policy, nor does it have an appeal process.

“It [the policy] can still comply with the law and, at the same time, be a statement of the way we value and protect each and every child and faculty member regardless of whether they are transgender, nonbinary or intersex,” Dockery said. “It not only excludes students from using facilities that align with who they are, but they have to further suffer humiliation of having to ask permission to use gender neutral and single stall accommodations.”

Dockery asked why single stall bathrooms would not be available to every student without having to go through a permission process.

“What about students who are being bullied?” she asked. “Are we saying they have to go through a permission process before they can use a single stall or gender neutral restroom?”

The school board did not respond to Dockery’s questions regarding whether students would need administrator permission to use gender neutral bathrooms.

Dockery said that the board cannot ignore the facts about children who are bullied and/or are part of the LGBTQ community—noting that they are at an elevated risk for depression, substance abuse and suicide.

Dockery urged the school board to “go back to the drawing board” with this policy with the time they have leading up to an April 1, 2024 document deadline for the state.

A bathroom, locker room and dressing room policy of this nature is now required in schools and public buildings across the state due to a new law, House Bill 1521, signed May 17 by Gov. Ron DeSantis. Click here to view the statewide law.

Click here to view the full Clay County school board meeting.

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Accredited journalist with experience covering a wide range of stories consisting of breaking news, city and county government, crime and courts, feature stories and local interest. Twitter: @zoeyfields0

Jacksonville, FL

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