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The Florida State Board of Education voted Wednesday to pass new rules for its state colleges that restrict transgender students and employees from using bathrooms aligning with their gender identity. 

The regulations stem from a bill the Florida Legislature passed in May that largely bars people from using bathrooms at colleges, schools, correctional facilities and public buildings that don’t align with their sex at birth. The law tasked Florida’s education board with crafting disciplinary procedures for employees who violate the statute. 

Under the new rules, institutions within the Florida College System must fire employees who for the second time use a bathroom that doesn’t align with their sex at birth, even if asked to leave. They may choose to terminate employees on first offenses, though they have the option to discipline workers who violate the rules once through verbal warnings, written reprimands and suspension without pay.

The Florida College System spans 28 institutions, which collectively serve around roughly 650,000 students each year, according to its website. It is separate from the State University System of Florida, which is also subject to the new law. 

The regulations adopted Wednesday cover all of the Florida College System’s campus facilities, including student housing, restricting transgender students living in dorms from using restrooms aligned with their gender identity. 

The anti-trans rules are part of a broader effort by Florida’s conservative lawmakers to more tightly control the state’s education. Lawmakers have also recently barred public colleges from spending money on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives and attempted to restrict how instructors can discuss race and gender. 

‘Let trans students pee in peace’

LGBTQ+ rights advocates publicly railed against the regulations ahead of Wednesday’s vote. Many criticized the education board, arguing that the rules went beyond the scope of the law, including by potentially disciplining tenured faculty who don’t comply with the new policies. 

Others contended that the law, called the Safety in Private Spaces Act, addresses a nonexistent problem, harming transgender students and employees in the process.

A 2018 study from the UCLA School of Law found no link between allowing people to use bathrooms aligned with their gender identity and crimes in these spaces. Moreover, safety violations in bathrooms and changing facilities are “exceedingly rare,” the study’s authors wrote

However, Maxx Fenning — executive director of Prism FL, a nonprofit that advocates for LGBTQ+-inclusive education — pointed out that people who are transgender risk being harassed if they use bathrooms inconsistent with their gender identity. 

“Trans people just want to pee in a stall safely and mind their own business. And now college students can’t even do that in their own housing,” Fenning said. “Let trans students pee in peace, for the love of God.” 

Several commentators pointed out a lack of unisex facilities that transgender employees and students could use at colleges. 

“What is a trans personnel person supposed to do if they need to use the restroom and there’s no unisex facility?” Carlos Guillermo Smith, senior policy adviser at Equality Florida and former Florida lawmaker, said during the board meeting. “They’re going to face termination? They’re going to be routed out of the Florida College System? Why?” 

The head of each system institution must certify by April that their restrooms and changing facilities comply with the law. Kathy Hebda, Florida College System’s chancellor, told members of the education board Wednesday that the institutional presidents and other administrators have been made aware of the deadline. 

Starting in July, people can submit complaints to Florida’s attorney general if they believe a college or state agency isn’t complying with the law’s requirements. 

The Florida College System didn’t immediately provide comment Wednesday. The Florida Board of Governors, which oversees the State University System of Florida, didn’t answer by publication time whether it expected to propose similar regulations.