Guidelines for transgender students change for Sarasota County Schools

Sarasota County Schools announced new guidelines for students who identify as transgender.

The district is changing its guidelines to make certain students feel safer at school, but some board members are upset the superintendent didn’t get the public’s input first.

For the last year, Vanessa Nichols has been pushing for the same guidelines to be implemented ever since her son, who was born female, started identifying as male. Part of the policy Nichols says is important for her child is also making it so parents aren’t necessarily informed of their student's choice of restroom.

Nichols got her first look Wednesday at new guidelines Sarasota County Schools says are critical in making students who identify as transgender feel safer.

“It’s important to keep all of our students safe," Nichols said. "So every student in Sarasota County has not only equality, but equity.”

Nichols’ son, 9-year-old Dylan, starting identifying as male at home last year and a few months later at school.

“He’s a normal kid," Nichols said. "He’s just like everyone else. He loves PlayStation and he loves flag football and playing with his friends.”

It’s students like Dylan who are shifting the opinions of officials like Superintendent Todd Bowden, who informed principals last Friday of the new guidelines being implemented this week.

“When you come forward and seek accommodation, we’re going to work with you," Bowden said. "And we’re going to do what’s best for you to make sure that school is a safe place for you.”

Under the new policy, students will be addressed by the name and gender they prefer, they'll be allowed to use the bathrooms and locker rooms of the gender with which they identify, and every school must have a single stall bathroom, but no student will be forced to use it.

Also, as part of the policy, students seeking accommodation will get to decide whether their parents know about it.

“For me, parents have to be part of this discussion," Sarasota County School Board member Bridget Ziegler said. "I think someone said the most dangerous place often times is the home. I think that’s a dangerous precedent to send.”

“If we had a policy that if a student came out," Bowden said "And our first call was to the parents, we would cut off all communication to our students. They wouldn’t talk to us.”

Ziegler also is taking issue with the fact that the guidelines were changed without board approval, but that’s not required for changing provisions in an existing policy.

The guidelines don’t address athletics but defers to the state’s policy of gender identity participation in extracurricular sports.