St. Johns School District’s transgender bathroom policy could be headed to the U.S. Supreme Court

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. — A new ruling on a lawsuit challenging the St. Johns County School District’s policy on access to bathrooms for transgender students could have national implications.

The ruling handed down on December 30th upholds the district policy that requires students to use restrooms that align with their sex assigned at birth.

Drew Adams sued St. Johns County School District in 2017 after he was told he could not use the men’s bathroom because he was born a female.

Action News Jax reached out to Adams Wednesday, but he declined an interview.

This is what he said about the district policy when we spoke with him back in 2017.

“They have told the entire school body that it is okay to treat me as I am different,” said Adams.

Now, nearly five years later, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled St. Johns County has the right to limit bathroom use based on sex assigned at birth, so long as it provides accommodations like single-stall restrooms for transgender students.

In the ruling, the court said the district had a reported interest in protecting the safety of its students from the opposite sex.

“The protection of students’ privacy interests in using the bathroom away from the opposite sex and in shielding their bodies from the opposite sex is obviously an important governmental objective,” wrote US Circuit Judge Barbra Lagoa.

Equality Florida’s Brandon Wolf asked in response: What about the safety of trans students?

“We don’t hear a lot about how this disproportionately impacts their mental health,” said Wolf.

Just days after the ruling was issued, Pasco County implemented its own policy barring transgender students from using restrooms that align with their gender identity.

Local districts here in Northeast Florida are also taking note.

Clay County Public Schools told Action News Jax its policy has not changed, as it has always required students to use bathrooms aligned with their sex assigned at birth.

Duval currently told Action News Jax it currently works with students and their families to develop a plan on a case-by-case basis.

But the District Told Action News Jax it’s aware of the recent ruling and is continuing to, “Craft procedures and guidance for schools that complies with all state and federal rules”.

Wolf points out the choice is still up to the individual districts.

“This ruling in the Adams case does not compel the school districts to create exclusionary policies,” said Wolf.

The ruling applies not only to Florida, but other states such as Georgia and Alabama, which fall under the jurisdiction of the 11th Circuit.

However, previous rulings by the 4th and 7th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld transgender students’ right to use restrooms consistent with their gender identity.

Wolf said the conflicting rulings make it all the more likely this issue heads to the US Supreme Court.

“While this particular decision is in conflict with other decisions and we are likely to see the Supreme Court eventually weigh in here, the US Department of Education has been unequivocal in their support for transgender students,” said Wolf.

It is not clear how the conservative-majority US Supreme Court would rule on this case.

The court recently expanded sex-based workplace discrimination protections to include gender identity in 2020. Wolf pointed out that this is also the same court that proved it’s not afraid to reverse precedent when it overturned Roe V. Wade in 2022.

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