Adams v. Sch. Bd. of St. Johns Cnty.

Decision Date30 December 2022
Docket Number18-13592
PartiesDREW ADAMS, a minor, by and through his next friend and mother, Erica Adams Kasper, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. SCHOOL BOARD OF ST. JOHNS COUNTY, FLORIDA, Defendant-Appellant, TIM FORSON, et al., Defendants.
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)

DREW ADAMS, a minor, by and through his next friend and mother, Erica Adams Kasper, Plaintiff-Appellee,


TIM FORSON, et al., Defendants.

No. 18-13592

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

December 30, 2022

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida D.C. Docket No. 3:17-cv-00739-TJC-JBT



LAGOA, Circuit Judge, delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WILLIAM PRYOR, Chief Judge, NEWSOM, BRANCH, GRANT, LUCK, and BRASHER, joined.



This case involves the unremarkable-and nearly universal-practice of separating school bathrooms based on biological sex. This appeal requires us to determine whether separating the use of male and female bathrooms in the public schools based on a student's biological sex violates (1) the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1, and (2) Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, 20 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq. We hold that it does not-separating school bathrooms based on biological sex passes constitutional muster and comports with Title IX.


Defendant-Appellant, the School Board of St. Johns County (the "School Board"), is responsible for providing "proper attention to health, safety, and other matters relating to the welfare of students" within the St. Johns County School District (the "School District"). Fla. Stat. § 1001.42(8)(a). The School Board maintains and oversees the K-12 policies for the 40,000 students who attend the thirty-six different schools within the School District. See generally id. § 1001.42. Of the 40,000 students attending schools within the School District, around sixteen identify as transgender.

Plaintiff-Appellee, Drew Adams, is a transgender boy. This means that Adams identifies as male, while Adams's biological sex-sex based on chromosomal structure and anatomy at birth- is female. Adams entered the School District in the fourth grade as


a biological female and identified as a female. At the end of eighth grade, however, Adams began identifying and living as a boy. For example, Adams dressed in boys' clothing and wore a "chest binder" to flatten breast tissue. Most pertinently for this appeal, Adams adopted the male pronouns "he" and "him" and began using the male bathroom in public.

In August 2015, Adams entered ninth grade at Allen D. Nease High School ("Nease") within the School District. Nease provides female, male, and sex-neutral bathrooms for its 2,450 students. The communal female bathrooms have stalls, and the communal male bathrooms have stalls and undivided urinals. In addition to performing bodily functions in the communal bathrooms, students engage in other activities, like changing their clothes, in those spaces. Single-stall, sex-neutral bathrooms are provided to accommodate any student, including the approximately five transgender students at Nease, who prefer not to use the bathrooms that correspond with their biological sex. The bathrooms at Nease are ordinarily unsupervised.

The School Board, like many others, maintains a longstanding, unwritten bathroom policy under which male students must use the male bathroom and female students must use the female bathroom. For purposes of this policy, the School Board distinguishes between boys and girls on the basis of biological sex- which the School Board determines by reference to various documents, including birth certificates, that students submit when they first enroll in the School District. The School Board does not accept


updates to students' enrollment documents to conform with their gender identities.

According to the School Board, the bathroom policy addresses concerns about the privacy, safety, and welfare of students pursuant to the School Board's duties under the governing Florida statute. In line with these concerns, the parties specified the following in their joint pretrial statement:

The parties stipulate that certain parents of students and students in the St. Johns County School District object to a policy or practice that would allow students to use a bathroom that matches their gender identity as opposed to their sex assigned at birth. These individuals believe that such a practice would violate the bodily privacy rights of students and raise privacy, safety and welfare concerns.

In 2012, School District personnel began a comprehensive review of LGBTQ[1] issues affecting students. Indeed, the then-Director of Student Services for the School District attended, and sent personnel to, national LGBTQ conferences to help inform the School District about issues affecting the LGBTQ student community. The Director conducted significant research on LGBTQ student issues, met with LGBTQ student groups at schools throughout the School District, and contacted school administrators outside the School District, as well as a local LGBTQ organization, to


"gather every bit of information" to "support [LGBTQ] children." The Director also convened an LGBTQ task force, which met with "district administrators, . . . principals, . . . attorneys, . . . guidance counselors, [and] mental health therapists" to hear "every perspective" on emerging LGBTQ issues.

The School District's review of LGBTQ student issues culminated in 2015 with the announcement of a set of "Guidelines for LGBTQ students - Follow Best Practices" (the "Best Practices Guidelines"). Under the Best Practices Guidelines, School District personnel, upon request, address students consistent with their gender identity pronouns. The guidelines also allow transgender students to dress in accordance with their gender identities and publicly express their gender identities. Finally, the guidelines formally note that: "Transgender students will be given access to a gender-neutral restroom and will not be required to use the restroom corresponding to their biological sex."

The School Board's decision to maintain the longstanding bathroom policy separating bathrooms based on biological sex, while providing sex-neutral bathroom accommodations for transgender students under the Best Practices Guidelines, was motivated, in part, by the issue of gender fluidity in which students may switch between genders with which they identify. Both the Best Practices Guidelines and the bathroom policy apply to all schools with communal bathrooms in the School District, not only to high schools like Nease.


Because Adams is biologically female and first enrolled in the School District as a female, Adams is identified as a female for purposes of the bathroom policy. For the first few weeks of ninth grade, Adams used the male bathrooms (in violation of the bathroom policy) without incident. However, at some point during this period, two unidentified students observed Adams using a male bathroom and complained to school officials. The school then informed Adams that, under the bathroom policy, Adams had to use either the communal female bathrooms or the single-stall, sex-neutral bathrooms. Adams took issue with that directive and, with parental help, began petitioning the school to change its policy.

Adams continued the process of identifying as a male, including amending government documents with the State of Florida. For example, shortly before receiving a driver's license in the fall of 2016, Adams submitted medical documents to the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles to receive a male designation on the license. And, in 2017, while this litigation was pending, Adams obtained an amended birth certificate with a male designation.

Adams also began taking birth control to stop menstruation and testosterone to appear more masculine and underwent a "double-incision mastectomy" to remove breast tissue. Because Adams was still just a teenager who had not yet reached the age of maturity, Adams could not undergo additional surgeries to rework external genitalia. Thus, at all times relevant to this lawsuit, Adams


possessed the reproductive anatomy Adams was born with-that of a female.

On June 28, 2017, after Adams's efforts to change the School Board's bathroom policy failed, Adams filed suit against the School Board under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that its bathroom policy violated both the Equal Protection Clause and Title IX. After a three-day bench trial, the district court ruled in Adams's favor on both counts. The district court enjoined the School Board from prohibiting Adams's use of the male bathrooms and granted Adams $1,000 in compensatory damages.

The School Board timely appealed the district court's order. Following oral argument, a divided panel of this Court affirmed the district court over a dissent. Adams ex rel. Kesper v. Sch. Bd. of St. Johns Cnty., 968 F.3d 1286, 1292 (11th Cir. 2020); id. at 1311 (Pryor, C.J., dissenting). After a member of this Court withheld the mandate, the panel majority sua sponte withdrew its initial opinion and issued a revised opinion, again affirming the district court over a revised dissent but on grounds that were neither substantively discussed in the initial panel opinion nor substantively made by any party before the district court or this Court.[2]


Adams ex rel. Kesper v. Sch. Bd. of St. Johns Cnty., 3 F.4th 1299, 1303-04 (11th Cir. 2021); id. at 1321 (Pryor, C.J., dissenting). We then granted the School Board's petition for rehearing en banc and vacated the panel's revised opinion. Adams ex rel. Kasper v. Sch. Bd. of St. Johns Cnty., 9 F.4th 1369, 1372 (11th Cir. 2021).

Pursuant to our en banc briefing notice to the parties, on appeal the only questions before this Court are:

1) Does the School District's policy of assigning bathrooms based

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