Florida to Fire Transgender College Staff for Using Bathrooms Aligned With Gender Identity

The rule also requires consequences for students using dorm bathrooms that don't correspond to their sex assigned at birth.
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Updated on September 26, 2023
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  • The Florida Department of Education unanimously approved a rule allowing postsecondary schools to fire staff who use a restroom that doesn't align with their birth-assigned sex.
  • Under the new ruling, schools must fire staff after their second offense.
  • The ruling impacts students as well, including in dormitories and school-sponsored student housing.

The Florida Department of Education (FDOE) made a controversial ruling on Aug. 23 that requires institutions in the Florida College System to fire employees who use a restroom that doesn't align with their birth-assigned sex.

Staff members who break this rule are allowed one warning. Schools have the right to fire employees after the first offense, but it's optional. By the second offense, schools are legally required to fire the accused staff member. The rule extends to students as well and applies to student housing — although it doesn't specify consequences for students.

The unanimous ruling is an expansion of House Bill 1521, which passed in May and bans transgender people from using facilities that don't align with their birth-assigned sex in any government-owned building or restroom. The bill took effect on July 1, 2023. This latest ruling means that all institutions in the Florida College System must submit a compliance form by April 1, 2024, to demonstrate they're following the ruling. Institutions that erect new facilities or buildings after July 1, 2023, have a full year to adjust for the ruling.

How the New Bathroom Rule Impacts Students and Employees

The ruling mandates that Florida College System institutions must have restrooms and/or changing rooms designated for exclusive use by males or females or have a unisex facility. This new rule only affects state colleges, not universities. The Florida Board of Governors will vote on extending the policy to state universities in November.

Institutions need to have procedures in place to investigate anyone on campus, regardless of student or employee status, who is accused of using an opposite-sex facility and refusing to leave when asked to do so. If the institution finds someone violated the rule, they may receive a verbal warning, written reprimand, be suspended without pay, or face termination.

Nothing in this rule prohibits an institution from immediately terminating an employee for such a violation, the ruling states.

Warnings and reprimands are acceptable for first-time offenders. But, according to the adopted rule, college staff members must be fired if they violate the rule a second time. The FDOE also has the power to suspend educators' certificates.

The rule applies to dormitories and any sort of school-sponsored housing as well. It doesn't specify the consequences for college students but does mandate that schools have disciplinary procedures in place.

Institutions must explain in employee and student handbooks that if anyone believes the institution is not following the rule or conducting necessary investigations, they can file a complaint with the Attorney General.

Expansion of the Original Bill

FDOE Chair Ben Gibson introduced the public discussion of this ruling by saying, The State Board is required by law to pass this rule, because of the aforementioned bill.

Several members of the public waived in support of the ruling, but not everyone agreed with Gibson's statement.

Public commenters at the Wednesday FDOE meeting accused the Board of extending its reach beyond what's required of House Bill 1521.

Advocate and former congressman Carlos Guillermo Smith said, It mandates tax-payer funded investigations into restroom usage in the Florida College System. That was not in the original bill. It expands the bill to include college dormitories, not in the original bill. It also requires that staff be fired on a second offense for using the bathroom that aligns with their identity.

While Florida residents relayed their concerns at the podium, multiple expressed disappointment in the Board members for rolling their eyes or not looking at commenters while they spoke — even during more severe accusations.

Attacking Educators Does Not Help Our Students

Florida educators have already been leaving the state in droves. One reason for this is the lack of pay — Florida teachers are some of the lowest-paid in the country. Another major reason, though, is the flood of anti-LGBTQ laws.

In a press release titled, Attacking educators does not help our students, the Florida Education Association explained that between 2018 and 2023, teacher vacancies jumped from 1,492 to 5,294. In January, midway through the school year, vacancies reached 9,925. Florida currently has one of the worst student-to-teacher ratios in the country.

Florida K-12 educators have already experienced the effects of the state's “Don't Say Gay” law, which bars any discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in school. The FDOE recently ruled that transgender and nonbinary K-12 students must use bathrooms that align with their sex assigned at birth or unisex bathrooms.

Public schools haven't been open for a full month yet, but teachers are already noticing a problem.

We had this rule that came up real quick, July 1, and we needed to implement it right away. Students are in school now and there are not enough bathrooms for what the new rules are now, said Helen Back, a member of Women's Voices of Southwest Florida. Now we're seeing students have nowhere to urinate or defecate. They're holding their urine all day.

Not every public school has unisex restrooms. According to several public commenters, that includes the Collier County School Board Office where the FDOE's meeting took place.

Postsecondary schools could see similar issues after this month's ruling, potentially exacerbated since the rule will apply to student housing as well.

Jordan Beutel is a fourth-generation transgender educator who left the Florida school system and now acts as a mentor for students at the University of Colorado. He explained why he is one of the thousands of educators leaving their profession in Florida.

You continue to make it clear that you don't want trans educators in Florida. Rules like designating bathrooms, as is proposed, restricts trans educators from basic human needs, and that's the reason I left education to begin with, Beutel said.

Supporters of House Bill 1521 and the FDOE's ruling state they exist for student protection. However, there are no recorded cases where a transgender person has assaulted or harassed a cisgender individual in a bathroom and, according to research from the University of California, Los Angeles, anti-LGBTQ laws have little effect on that statistic.

Harvard has concluded that laws restricting bathroom usage have the opposite effect that supporters claim. Based on a study of about 3,700 students aged 13-17, 36% of transgender and nonbinary students subjected to restricted bathroom or locker room access reported being sexually assaulted within a 12-month period.

Adopting this new rule not only restricts rights for educators from their most primal needs to release bodily waste, more so it places students and faculty at increased risk for hate, discrimination, and suicide, Beutel said.