Public Comment Overwhelmingly Supportive On Duval Schools' Trans Policy

Jun 14, 2016

Transgender student Ryan Stalvey (left) and recent graduate Kyler Shelley watch the School Board meeting after commenting on Monday night.
Credit Lindsey Kilbride / WJCT News

More than 30 people, many of them high schoolers, took two hours to address the Duval County School Board Monday night about the district’s policies toward transgender students.

The board heard opposing views on how it deals with accommodations like restrooms, with the majority of speakers in favor of the district’s current policy.

After Sunday’s mass shooting at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando, Jacksonville Coalition for Equality lawyer Jimmy Midyette said he and other advocates wanted to make sure LGBT students felt supported in speaking out at the School Board meeting.

“I’m a little concerned that so many young people will be at the School Board meeting tonight to advocate for their rights in the wake of this tragedy, with the potential interaction of hate groups,” he told WJCT on Monday morning.

On Monday night, there was nothing on agenda to change the district's nondiscrimination policy, but about 25 people spoke in support of it, and seven spoke against it.

The district faces a lawsuit over its allowing transgender students to use restrooms and locker rooms matching their gender identities. Several current and former Duval students came to defend the non-discrimination policy, like 16-year-old transgender Paxon High student Ryan Stalvey.

“I’m here to tell you that we did not ask for this bathroom issue just as you didn’t. The only difference between you and me is that I’m transgender. But in all honestly I’m just a teenager. I’m just like every other boy in my grade. I’m not a threat in the restroom to your son. I just want to use the bathroom,” he said.

Duval School Superintendent Nikolai Vitti hugged Stalvey and another transgender student after they spoke.

The suit was filed last month by a mother of four Duval students, who claims her children are put in harm’s way. Her lawyer, Wes White, is running for state attorney. He filed it days after the federal government advised all public schools that nondiscrimination laws protect students on the basis of gender identity.

The Departments of Justice and Education sent a letter to every public school district in the country, with guidelines meant to ensure transgender and non-transgender students "can all enjoy a safe and discrimination-free environment."

The letter advises public schools how the interprets Title IX nondiscrimination policy to include gender identity in its definition of "sex." Schools that receive federal dollars aren’t allowed to discriminate based on students' sex.

On WJCT's "First Coast Connect" last month, Vitti said Duval County public schools have allowed students to use restrooms matching their gender identities since 2008.  

“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.

He said that would either entail students using a restroom matching their gender identity, or a single-stall restroom, if that’s what they prefer. The guidance in the federal letter said transgender students cannot be required to use single-stall restrooms, but they can be made available as an option.

A minority of the commenters, like former teacher Melody Bolduc whose filed to run for school board, said transgender students should be accommodated on a case-by-case basis only. She’s afraid boys who aren't transgender will enter girls’ bathrooms.  

“I don’t know who here, out of all the men in this audience are willing to say, ‘You know what, I would have done some crazy things as a teenage boy.’ I am a teacher.  I have studied a great deal of adolescent psychology,” she said.

The Duval County School Board has not moved to change its policy. But board member Jason Fischer, who is running for a state House seat, has called for the board to adopt a “common sense” policy requiring students to use the restrooms and locker rooms of their biological sex. That is the stance taken by school superintendents in Nassau and Clay counties.

At a school board workshop last month, about a dozen people came to speak about Duval’s policy. Most were against students' using the restroom of their identified gender.