There are no transgender “issues” in Flagler County schools.
There are no bathroom issues, no issues with transgender athletes, no issues with a student of one birth sex supposedly using their transgender status to leer at students of the other. No issues have been referred to the school board attorney, to whom they would have to be if the problem wasn’t the sort of matter that arises and gets resolved at the school level.
But to hear it from a some circles, the district’s transgender-nondiscrimination amendment that cleared the school board a few months ago has upended schools and upset parents, some of whom spoke to the board a few weeks ago, when newly elected School Board member Jill Woolbright called for a workshop on the issue.
That workshop discussion takes place Tuesday afternoon. It’ll amount to a presentation on the state of the law and what the district is doing to follow the law. But the workshop may draw a crowd larger than usual at such meetings: the 1 p.m. meeting has been moved from its usual third-floor conference room to the board chambers on the first floor, in anticipation for a large attendance, possibly driven in part by members of the clergy, and in part by local politicians seeing an opportunity.
The issue appears fabricated–the work of a very small handful of people who are riding a wave of legislative efforts in Tallahassee and a few other state capitols to scale back transgender rights with discriminatory policies, such as bans on transgender girl athletes, bans on gender reassignment medical care for minors, and bans on transgender not using bathrooms of their birth sex. The bills are almost uniformly driven more by ideology than fact-based “problems” in schools or elsewhere, as those problems, as in Flagler, appear minimal to non-existent. In Florida, for example, just 11 transgender athletes have sought to play sports on high school teams in the past eight years across all of Florida. To be sure, there are also numerous bills seeking the oppositive: to afford protections for transgender individuals.
Two or three people addressed the Flagler school board at a workshop last month, professing themselves shocked to have been taken by surprise that rights have been extended to transgender students in Flagler schools, and suggesting that they would not stand for it. (See below.) They did not present a single example of an issue or a problem developing from such rights being afforded.
“I thought that topic was over with, to be truthful with you until yesterday,” School Board Chairman Trevor Tucker said after the March workshop. “I thought–where did this come from?”
And while Woolbright pushed for the workshop after saying she’d been contacted by school staff and residents with such concerns, a review of her emails–at least those provided subsequent to a public record request after that meeting–indicate only a few exchanges on the issue, and none from school staffers reporting either an issue, a problem or a concern (or confusion) in the schools over the policy. (Woolbright said there should have been at least one email from a staffer.)
In an interview today, Woolbright said she spends a lot of time in the schools and talking with residents. She hears from both groups issues–not with actual problems in schools, but with transparency. “The staff and residents are having issues with the lack of transparency to parents about how things are going on, just so parents are aware,” Woolbright said, noting that the rollout of the district’s procedures was not done openly. “There were people that were upset about the policies, not knowing that they were put in place.” Woolbright would prefer that on such things, the district take time to set up work groups and get buy-in from residents and staff, thus avoiding misunderstandings or a sense that policies were being developed in the dark.
The other issue she noted was about parental rights: while the district will not disclose a child’s choice of changing gender identity if that student decides to keep that private, Woolbright says there’s still a matter of parental right that should be addressed–or explained, so parents understand the law. “Get it all out in the open, This is how it is, this is the law, this is what we must do,” Woolbright said. But she, too, acknowledged that there are no issues in schools per se–no issues with students themselves on the field or in bathrooms or in locker rooms, creating problematic situations.
FlaglerLive requested all electronic communications school board members have received on the anti-discrimination policy’s inclusion of gender protection since last year. None of the communications, very few as they are, touch even on the transparency concerns Woolbright spoke of, let alone on transgender issues in schools. The same one or two email senders populating the board members’ accounts with the sort of generalized rants they heard at the workshop last month–but nothing specific, nothing about parental rights or a wish to better understand laws and procedures.
Kristy Gavin, the school board attorney, said that other than that sort of chatter and occasional confusion about the application of the district’s policies and procedures, there have not been issues that have not been resolved. Gavin was not herself aware of any issues involving athletes. The district follows the current policy of the Florida High School Athletic Association, which affords all students, transgender students included, the opportunity to play on teams of their choosing, assuming they make the cut.
The district has policies and procedures in place that treat all students, not just transgender students, equally–that is, without discrimination. The approach is driven as much by confidentiality as it is by a principle of fairness, inclusion, and respect for the student’s dignity.
For example, school employees “will not unnecessarily disclose any information about a student’s sexual orientation, transgender identity or questions they may have about their sexual orientation or gender identity to third parties.” That means if a student decides to change their gender identity and not tell parents, district staff is barred from disclosing the change to the parents.
As far as restrooms are concerned, “A student will not be required to use a restroom that is incongruent with their gender identity. Any student who has a
desire for increased privacy has the right to access a single-user restroom.” That means it’s the student’s choice. Locker rooms are offered according to similar choices, with those decisions made on a case by case basis.
Regarding pronouns, official records may reflect the student’s legal name until changed legally, but “schools should permit the use of the preferred name in
unofficial records to assist staff in calling the student by their preferred name.” Transgender students, like any other students, are to be permitted to dress as they choose. And of course students at proms and dances may bring as dates whom they choose.
The district defines gender identity this way: “One’s innermost concept of self as male, female, a blend of both or neither–how individuals perceive themselves and what they call themselves. One’s gender identity can be the same or different from their sex assigned at birth.” It defines sexual orientation as “One’s emotional, romantic or sexual attraction to others.”
In mid-January, the school board voted 3-2 to add the words “gender identity” to the district’s non-discrimination policy. The majority was made up of Tucker, Colleen Conklin and Cheryl Massaro. Woolbright and Janet McDonald voted against. Tucker had switched from his previous opposition, citing court precedent. Both the U.S. Supreme Court and the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals had rendered decisions that essentially left the school board no choice, equating the words “sex discrimination” not all sexes, not just women. Discrimination against transgender people, the Supreme Court ruled, was no more admissible than discriminating against women.
Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt, while she was an assistant superintendent in St. Johns County, was herself involved–and testified–in a case that originated with St. Johns County Schools and ended up at the 11th Circuit. The district had denied a student the right to use the bathroom of their choice. Both a trial court and the 11th Circuit ruled the district had been wrong. It is unlikely that Mittelstadt would be eager to invite another round of litigation in her new district.
In sum, the district has been proceeding according to law, applying procedures that have sought a balance between respect and common sense, with–based on evidence so far–no discernible issues of note. While a few voices in the community have been using social media to amplify what remains a limited effort to counter the district’s approach, it has been more sound and fury than evidence-based objections.
Among the few emails to school board members, the same constituents’ emails tend to recur, at times through unsigned emails, so they could be from anywhere. One such attacked board members for citing a Supreme Court decision “to push your personal, far left, social justice agenda,” and that there was no need to “vote on a ‘clarification’ if it were mandated by law,” an erroneous statements: local governments routinely amend ordinances and policies to conform with law’s evolution. The writer described the board’s policy amendment as “poison” that “will be exposed for what it is, another assertion from a Liberal Democrat that we are all racists and discriminate against our own children.” (The three board members who voted for the amendment are two life-long Republicans and one Blue Dog Democrat: Conklin is not liberal by any definition.)
The same writer (whose email address is [email protected]), wrote Woolbright in early January: “Your irresponsible decision to include a transgender nondiscrimination policy in Flagler Schools will result in men playing on girls sports teams, discriminating against girls and men utilizing girls bathrooms,” and so on, before predicting lawsuits ahead. “When these suits are filed, and it won’t be long, we will hold you personally responsible.”
Chanel Channing, who was also at the workshop last month, speaking critically about masks, wrote Woolbright on March 13 that “When Transgender Laws mandate that we no longer can use words such as ‘He’ or ‘She’ nor ‘Him’ or ‘Her’ yet must instead use ‘They,’ ‘Them,’ and ‘Their’; Collectivism has sacrificed the Individual for the good of the all.” She then described Chinese military parades, said all those Chinese look alike (“THOUSANDS of soldiers faces are indetinguishable (sic.) from each other” and used that example to define what she means by “collectivism.” The email also made a connection between changing pronouns and mask mandates. Two days later, Channing asks Woolbright for a list of private schools where vouchers could be used. Woolbright wrote her she had no such list and would have to Google it.
Ten days later, after attending the board workshop and speaking there, Channing wrote Woolbright again: “You can see. we’re starting to come
together from the various small (yet growing) and intertwined Conservative groups, so all your feedback to any of us has the potential of educating many
of us as to the best way to approach the School Board. We are truly grateful. You can also see from today that we’re presently focusing on Mask and Transgender concerns and we appreciate your input as to these and other issues.”
Woolbright responded: “Think you for your email. I think you meant to send this to the three board members that voted to put the words “gender identity” in our none-discrimination policy. I voted against doing so and understand your point of view.”
Massaro exchanged a few emails with a former school staffer but on general matters (the Teen Town hall, helping a student get introduced to an LGBTQ group at one of the high schools), but that’s been it. Tucker had no significant exchanges beyond getting the same emails.
Board member Janet McDonald, who voted against the policy change, produced almost no communications on the subject. There was one exchange with Sara Riley, a mental health counselor, in which McDonald discusses “cancel culture” and refers to Epoch Times, an anti-China, pro-Trump newspaper rich in disinformation. (“You recently retweeted and agreed with the statement that our current president, Joe Biden is a ‘Traitor to the United States of America,'” Riley wrote the board member. “These statements are very concerning to me,” going on to defend McDonald’s right to voice her mind as a private citizen, but not to spread disinformation as an elected official, using her position.)
In many ways, the current tenor of anti-transgender sentiment, such as it is, mirrors an attempt that flared at the Legislature six years ago, when lawmakers attempted–and failed–to pass a law forbidding local governments from banning transgender use of bathrooms designated for a sex other than the person’s birth sex. North Carolina had passed such a ban, only to face a slew of boycotts from business and sports organizations. The comments to Flagler school board members last March were no less ferrous.
Alison Wildermuth put it this way: “You caught me sleeping. I was licking my wounds after the last election, and you caught me asleep. What’s going on with the transgender stuff in the schools? I’m just–I’m so shocked that I live in a red county and this is going on. So this is–let’s throw the tea in the harbor, this is taxation without representation. You are not representing me and my neighbors, anybody in my neighborhood, and I know you had a plethora of high school students come in here and express their concerns, but guess what. They don’t pay the taxes. I do. And all my neighbors. And I’m horrified. ”
She demanded “floor-to-ceiling,” immediate modifications to “all the bathrooms,” presumably to forbid certain students from using them unless they use single-use bathrooms, and described herself as “horrified” by the current situation, though she gave no examples of anything horrifying going on–or anything out of the ordinary. “It sounds like something that goes on in other states, not Florida, not my red county,” she said.
Kathy Schneider was also concerned about the “LGBT bathroom situation.” She identified herself as a grandparent. “You cannot tell me that there might not be a young boy out there, 16 years old, hot-blooded American young man, who likes girls, who may not pretend, he could pretend to be an LGBT, and he is allowed in the girls’ bathroom.”
Actually, you can: there has never been a recorded case in Florida in any school or college campus where an individual of one sex posed as a transgender student to have access to the other. The elaborate difficulties of the subterfuge alone would tend to discourage impostors, who generally opt for cruder means. None of the speakers concerned about transgender students, before the school board at that particular workshop or previously, have shown any concern for, among more demonstrably prevalent problems, date rape, for example.
Schneider said “people in this community are not for this. That does not mean that I hate people that claim to be a different gender, although I don’t believe in it, because in my opinion–not my opinion, but God’s opinion, he created two genders, man, and a woman, who were once a boy and a girl. There are no other genders.” LGBTQ advocates, she claimed–without evidence–“are in the minority, and you are not looking out for the children that are in the majority.”
From almost all accounts and the evidence so far, Schneider appears to have it in reverse.