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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Will Obama's directive on transgender students lead to a bathroom construction boom?

President Obama's recent edict to schools on the treatment of transgender students has yielded a wide range of responses, from flat out rejection to praise and acceptance.

At least one Florida superintendent, though, had a more nuanced reaction. In a recent email to colleagues, Sumter schools leader Richard Shirley called the administration's action a case of federal overreach, but also noted his district's desire to make all students feel safe and secure.

That could lead to restroom renovations as part of the effort to accommodate individual needs, Shirley wrote. From his email:

"Principals can make arrangements with students and parents as needed to insure access to individual restroom facilities that insure privacy and safety of all. Gender choices are not our business, however student safety and privacy are. Parents, staff and students can rest assured we will use common sense in dealing with this critical issue.

"However, this individual flexibility does not apply to using group facilities. Students will be expected to use group restroom facilities based on their birth gender until necessary remodeling takes place to insure the safety, privacy and comfort of all students in single unisex restroom facilities. Remodeling and renovation will begin this summer to increase the number of private restroom and locker areas, with priority being given to secondary schools. Until then, group restroom/locker use will be limited to a student's birth gender and failure to follow those guidelines should be dealt with by appropriate disciplinary action in consultation with parents.

Florida state Sen. Wilton Simpson, a Pasco County Republican in line to become Senate president in 2020, sent a note to Shirley saying he had received several messages on the subject. He backed the idea of private restroom renovations as a safe alternative:

"I understand that many of the people I represent have deeply held beliefs about this issue. As your senator, it is not my role to cast judgment upon another person's way of life or their personal decisions. My job is to determine if a situation calls for more or less government involvement.

"I have already been notified by some schools in my district that as they undertake renovations this summer, there will be more private bathrooms built. It is my belief that all children having access to private bathrooms is the safest option moving forward."

Overall, Simpson wrote that the state should develop a plan that is safe for all students. He indicated that he was not concerned that the transgender individuals asking for accommodationes would act improperly. His fear, he stated, is "people who are not transgender, but who are sick and whose only intent is to use the confusion surrounding this issue to access public restrooms in order to harm others."

He, too, criticized the Obama administration for trying to force a one-size-fits-all solution onto schools.

[Last modified: Tuesday, May 24, 2016 12:45pm]


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