Transgender sexual assault claims at Brevard Public Schools could bring new state rules

·5 min read

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Editor's note: this story has been updated with additional information about the timing of the Florida Department of Education's proposed rules.

Amid hotly disputed claims that a transgender student sexually assaulted a girl in women's restroom at Johnson Middle School, and an investigation of another incident where a girl claimed she was groped in different school restroom by a transgender girl that led to no charges being pressed, Brevard Public Schools is braced for new potential regulations of bathroom access by transgender students.

In response to allegations at Brevard Public Schools, the Florida Department of Education is weighing rules that would require districts to publish on their websites if their policy "allows for separation of bathrooms or locker rooms according to some criteria other than biological sex at birth," according to a draft of the rule published to the Department of Education website. The districts would be required to specify how locker rooms are supervised and which locker rooms and bathrooms are open to the opposite sex.

In addition, districts would have an obligation to "ensure that all students have a comparable opportunity to use a bathroom or locker room separated by biological sex at birth."

The state Board of Education will likely discuss the rule at its October meeting.

require schools to notify parents when school policy allows transgender students to access bathrooms and locker rooms. Current BPS practice allows transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms of the opposite sex, though no specific bathroom policy exists.

As of Friday afternoon, BPS had not received word about this from the Florida Department of Education, and the state had not yet responded to a query from FLORIDA TODAY.

Brevard Public Schools
Brevard Public Schools

School Board member Matt Susin said he has been in daily contact with the Florida Department of Education about an investigation into the allegations which became public last week when State Rep. Randy Fine sent a letter to Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz, Jr., repeating the claims of the transgender bathroom assault over the summer at Johnson Middle School.

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BPS spokesman Russell Bruhn and Superintendent Mark Mullins have vehemently and categorically denied any such assault took place at Johnson, saying students at Johnson Middle were escorted to the bathroom by staff over the summer when the incident supposedly took place due to ongoing construction, and no witnesses have come forward to the district.

In a Monday letter to Diaz, Mullins said the district had no evidence to support Fine’s claims.

“The restrooms are small, and any disruptive noises would be easily heard by the staff member outside the door,” Mullins wrote. “At no time were staff members witness to, made aware of, or heard any comments related to any actions involving students in a restroom, student physical conflicts, or any related misconduct or action.”

At the time Fine made the Johnson Middle School allegations, Melbourne Police Department said it had no information about such an incident. But the department has since opened an investigation and said Friday morning it is still investigating the allegations.

As those claims were being argued over, the Brevard County Sheriff's Office released a report in response to a public records request of an investigation into an incident in June when a female student accused a transgender student of grabbing her breasts in the bathroom.

The accused student denied grabbing the girl’s breast, and the case was closed for lack of evidence and conflicting statements, according to the BCSO report. Another student was present in the bathroom but said she did not see the alleged touching.

It’s not clear whether a rumor grapevine transformed the alleged sexual assault at Space Coast Jr./Sr. High School into a rape at Johnson Middle School, or if the reports are separate. Fine said Thursday that the parents who brought the allegations at Johnson Middle School to his attention remain convinced that something did happen at that school.

Fine shared the BSCO investigation report about the high school incident to his Facebook page Thursday morning, calling it proof that a transgender student sexually assaulted another student in a bathroom. He further accused BPS of “gaslighting” the public because the district did not reveal the incident when asked about Johnson Middle School. Gaslighting is a manipulation tactic wherein the abuser manipulates the victim to question their own reality.

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“We should be able to trust Brevard Government Schools to put our children first,” Fine wrote. “To not hide criminal activity that hurts our children. Brevard Government Schools should have openly and transparently addressed the concerns of these parents.”

State law requires schools to report certain crimes, including sexual assault, to the state through the School Environmental Safety Incident Reporting System (SESIR). Bruhn said the district does not report unsubstantiated crime reports to the state. The district did report the Space Coast Jr./Sr. High incident to BCSO, the Florida Department of Children and Families and a third party Title IX organization.

“All three of them said that there's nothing to move forward with,” Bruhn said. “We don't report that to the state, and that's not required.”

School Board member Matt Susin contends that he wasn’t informed about the incident when it occurred, as is the district’s common practice. But other school board members, including Jennifer Jenkins, Katye Campbell and chair Misty Belford said Mullins called them to tell them about it the same day it was reported to the sheriff's office.

Bruhn said the district also did not bring up the Space Coast incident when asked about Johnson Middle School because the allegations of that case were different — the Johnson Middle School incident was said to be a rape case. The district also wanted to safeguard student privacy, Bruhn said.

“It wasn't necessary to start outing other incidents when our goal is to protect our students and make sure that they're safe,” Bruhn said. “The Johnson Middle School claim was, and still is, so outrageous and unfair, that we wanted to make sure that the public knew that it was grossly incorrect.”

Breaking news reporter Finch Walker contributed to this report. 

Bailey Gallion is the education reporter for FLORIDA TODAY. Contact Gallion at 321-242-3786 or bgallion@floridatoday.com.

This article originally appeared on Florida Today: Transgender sexual assault report at BPS could bring new state rules