Parents push Volusia County School Board toward better transgender policies

By : Samantha Rosenthal
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Deltona, Fla.- Two families are pushing back against Volusia School Board policies that prevent their transgender children from using restrooms and facilities aligned with their gender identities.

Kyle Mournian, a senior student who was born a female but is now a fully transitioned male, was told by staff at Deltona High School he couldn’t use the boy’s restroom or other facilities despite the fact that he identifies as a boy, has been taking hormones for more than a year and has a girlfriend.

Mournian is identified on his passport as a male and on his driver’s license, and his birth certificate will say the same when they are changed within the next couple months. The family wants the school district to change the student’s name and sex on his paperwork to reflect his identity and update current policies that don’t address rights and protections for transgender students.

The second student is in middle school, and name and identity have not been released.

Gina Duncan, Equality Florida’s Transgender Inclusion Director, spoke at a September school board meeting, asking the board to develop better practices and work toward initiating policies that allow transgender students to have a safe school environment where they feel accepted. She also pushed for changing students’ paperwork to reflect names and genders that match their identities.

“The Volusia County School Board was one of the first school districts in Florida to prohibit bullying and harassment on the basis of gender identity in March of 2011,” Nancy Wait, director of community information services for Volusia County Schools, said in a statement. “Any report of bullying or harassment is investigated and may result in disciplinary action against a student.”

The Mournian family and the middle school student’s family approached the ACLU, PFLAG and Equality Florida to get the organizations involved in bringing about change for transgender students in Volusia County.A group formed from the three organizations presented to Superintendent Margaret Smith and the school board proposals for policy recommendations and implantation.

When the group met with the Volusia County school board last month they offered to be a resource to Volusia County for transgender students, faculty and parents with free educational workshops; provide models of schools with policies for transgender students in place already; and presentthe school board with policies from the Department of Education based on the Arcadia ruling that can assist in preparing better policies that won’t discriminate against these students. Duncan met one-on-one with Superintendent Smith to discuss further the necessary steps that need to be taken,but she saidin an email to Duncan she doesn’t intend to change the district’s current practices in place.

“The superintendent is not interested in moving forward in proper policies and protocols and apparently is okay with the current discriminatory policies against transgender students,” Duncan said.

Smith was out of town and unable to comment by press time, but Wait told Watermark, “We make accommodations for transgender students and for those who have identified because we know there are more than just those two. Some just haven’t identified because they want to keep it private.”

Along with the Smith, School Board Members Linda Costello and Ida Wright have reservations about allowing transgender students to use facilities other than the ones that align with their birth sex.

“The Volusia school district apparently is not interested in moving forward with inclusive policies that are being implemented all over the country,” Duncan said. “The transgender community is evolving and is emerging as more visible than ever. Students are transitioning at a younger and younger age, and the school district is going to have to embrace the necessary policies to prevent bullying, discrimination and marginalization of transgender students.”

The school paperwork for students who attend schools in Volusia County has the name and sex of the student as it appears on their birth certificate. The school district removed the mentioning of the sex of student to only necessary documents and teachers are free to call students by other names rather than their legal name.

“Each school works with a student and his or her parents that requests alternative restroom and locker room usage,” Wait said in statement. “Those alternatives are located within a convenient, if not identical, distance from their classroom and not locked. The intent is to provide a discreet alternative for the student. If such an alternative restroom was locked, it is corrected immediately. Providing alternatives is done on a case by case basis and based on the individual needs of a student. Some transgender students do not wish their gender identity to be known by other students.”

Yet both Duncan and the family of Kyle Mournian believe this is not enough and continue to push forward in making progress for transgender students throughout Volusia County.

“We would hope that they do their research and review these policies which have been either highly recommended by the Department of Education or that have been successfully implemented in other schools across the country,” Duncan said.

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