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State Board of Education approves a college bathroom rule

Perspective shot of a countertop with three sinks and mirrors in a stark public school bathroom.
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Florida public colleges will be required to update policies on restrooms and changing rooms to have separate facilities “based on biological sex at birth,” under a rule approved Wednesday by the State Board of Education.

Florida public colleges will now be required to update policies on restrooms and changing rooms to have separate facilities “based on biological sex at birth.”

Florida public colleges will be required to update policies on restrooms and changing rooms to have separate facilities “based on biological sex at birth,” under a rule approved Wednesday by the State Board of Education.

The rule, which applies to the 28 schools in the state college system, stems from a law (HB 1521) approved by the Legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis in May — which supporters dubbed the “Safety in Private Spaces Act” but LGBTQ-rights advocates labeled as discriminatory. Under the rule, college restrooms and changing facilities will have to be “designated for exclusive use by males or females,” or unisex restrooms or changing facilities will have to be available.

The rule will require each college president to submit a form certifying compliance, with the requirements applying to “all facilities on all campuses.” The rule also applies to campus housing.

The measure calls for colleges to establish disciplinary procedures for administrators and instructional employees who violate the rule. The disciplinary actions could include verbal warnings, written reprimands, suspensions without pay and termination. The rule requires that a second violation “must result in a termination.” The rule also specifies steps that colleges must take to document violations.

“Such documentation must, at minimum, include the name of the offender, the person that asked the offender to leave the restroom, and the circumstances of the event sufficient to establish a violation,” the rule said.

The LGBTQ-advocacy group Equality Florida slammed the rule as part of what the group called an escalation of “anti-LGBTQ attacks.” Former state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, a senior policy adviser for Equality Florida, said the rule goes “far beyond the scope” of the law that passed in May.

“These threats of bathroom investigations, forced firing of personnel, and restrictions on dormitories in the Florida College System will only worsen the current culture of fear and intimidation against the transgender community,” Smith said in a statement.

Meanwhile, a news release from the state Department of Education characterized the rule and several others approved by the board as part of a larger effort to “continue safeguarding” students.

“Florida has continued to lead the way in protecting our students, and I am proud of all the work we are doing on their behalf,” Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. said in a statement.