TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Saying federal guidelines aimed at preventing discrimination against students based on such things as gender identity would “vastly expand the application” of Title IX, Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz, Jr. told school officials Thursday to ignore the guidelines.
Title IX is a federal law that was enacted more than 50 years ago to prohibit sex-based discrimination in educational institutions. The U.S. Department of Education last month released a proposal that it said would “provide greater clarity regarding the scope” of sex discrimination.
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The guidelines would extend protections under the law to include schools’ “obligations not to discriminate based on sex stereotypes, sex characteristics, pregnancy or related conditions, sexual orientation and gender identity.”
Diaz took issue with the interpretation of Title IX to include sexual orientation and gender identity. He sent letters Thursday to superintendents, school boards, private-school owners and charter-school governing boards that said guidance documents from the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Agriculture “are not binding law” and asking school officials to refuse to change their practices.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is involved in such things as school-lunch programs, in May similarly announced it would begin interpreting Title IX “to include discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”
Diaz warned against schools making certain accommodations for transgender students.
“Specifically, for example, nothing in these guidance documents requires you to give biological males who identify as female access to female bathrooms, locker rooms, or dorms; to assign biological males who identify as female to female rooms on school field trips; or to allow biological males who identify as female to compete on female sports teams,” Diaz wrote.
But in a news release last month, U.S. Department of Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said the guidelines, in part, will “ensure all our nation’s students — no matter where they live, who they are or whom they love — can learn, grow and thrive in school.
Diaz’s letter was an extension of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ efforts to bar what he calls “woke gender ideology” from classrooms.
The governor during a news conference Wednesday suggested that school systems in other states have included instruction that would encourage students to question their genders.
“And basically, this would be for elementary school kids, where they’re instructed to tell them, ‘Well, you may have been born a boy, that may have been what you said, but maybe you’re really a girl.’ That’s wrong. That has no place in school. So, that is happening in our country. Anyone that tells you it’s not happening is lying to you,” DeSantis said during an appearance in Tampa.
DeSantis this year signed a controversial bill that restricts instruction about gender identity and sexual orientation in schools. The measure, which critics derided as the “don’t say gay” bill, has drawn federal-court challenges.
Also, DeSantis in 2021 signed legislation that barred transgender female athletes from competing on high-school girls’ and college women’s sports teams.
Diaz’s letter also took aim at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, accusing it of communicating with schools and “suggesting that they should comply” with the U.S. Department of Agriculture guidance.
The state department is led by Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democrat who is running for governor this year and frequently clashes with DeSantis.
Diaz also advised schools to disregard what he characterized as “any suggestion” from the state agriculture department that schools post an “And Justice for All” poster, which would indicate participation in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service program.
According to the federal agriculture agency, the posters are the “primary method utilized to inform customers of their rights that displays information relevant” to federally assisted programs.
Matthew Woodside, a teacher at Andrew Jackson Middle School in Titusville, said Brevard County instructed him to allow students of different genders to use a bathroom or locker room of the student’s choosing.
Woodside said the most concerning situation took place at a school in northern Brevard County.
“A teacher allowed a female student into his male locker room because she was identifying as a male,” he said. “Upon entry, she changed her clothes in front of those male students... in front of the male P.E. teacher, and they all witnessed she was wearing no undergarments under her shirt.”
Woodside told News 6 he received a letter from the school, telling him that if he did not follow the bathroom and locker room policy, it “could result in discipline.” He added that he believes most parents aren’t aware of the policy being enforced by Brevard public schools.
“We have to ask ourselves what serves them best,” he said. “And the answer is the truth. Communicating truth and love.”
The Sumter County School District said it supports the guidance provided by Diaz and DeSantis, which the district believes to be fully in line with Florida law.
Seminole County Public Schools told News 6 the district has received the memo and is reviewing it to check how it aligns with the district’s current policies or whether changes may be needed.
The News Service of Florida contacted the U.S. Department of Education and the state agriculture department on Thursday for comment but did not immediately receive responses.
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