‘Death and Pain’: Both sides worry about safety in JoCo schools’ trans bathroom debate – Kansas City Star | Salisbury Pipes

Gardner-Edgerton High School

Gardner-Edgerton High School

Gardner Edgerton School District

Most members of the Gardner Edgerton school board said Monday they support a proposal to ban transgender students from using gender-consistent bathrooms.

But after two months of controversial discussions, the board delayed a decision to first seek input from school staff.

“I support … boys using the boys’ toilet and girls using the girls’ bathroom,” board member Lana Sutton said during Monday’s packed session. “And to have a separate bathroom available to all people at birth, regardless of gender, if they so choose.”

Parents, community members and LGBTQ advocates spoke both for and against the proposed policy, which would require transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms appropriate to their gender at birth. Students who refuse would have to use unisex facilities.

The proposal is a watered-down version of a policy recommended in July by board member Jeff Miller, who proposed requiring teachers to use students’ birth pronouns. Instead, the board asked district officials and legal counsel to explore options for a new policy.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas has warned the school board that such a policy would violate federal law and harm the district’s most vulnerable students.

In a letter, the ACLU wrote, “While it appears the board has made changes to address the most egregious parts of the previous draft, the amended policy still violates the rights of transgender students and puts them at risk in your schools.”

The latest suggestion is that staff should address students by their preferred names and pronouns. But it also asks staff to notify parents when a transgender student makes this request. The ACLU has warned against such parental notifications, fearing the practice could “out” LGBTQ students to their families against their consent.

“The Board genuinely desires to provide a safe and welcoming environment for all of our students,” said Superintendent Brian Huff. “We want to give dignity to all students.”

Katie Williams, the only progressive on the majority-conservative school board, argued that the proposal was the district’s facility for discrimination claims. She called on the district to survey students on the issue and form a committee made up of LGBTQ students, parents, health professionals and advocates to consider the proposal. But she received no support from the rest of the board.

She also raised concerns that the high school only offers two gender-neutral bathrooms and these are also used by special needs students. Williams suggested fitting bathroom stalls with floor-to-ceiling doors.

Board Chairman Tom Reddin argued that if transgender students are allowed to use the facilities of their choice, there is a majority of “students that we don’t protect if we let the boy go into the girls’ bathroom.”

“Protect from what?” Williams replied.

“These girls are not going to be comfortable with the boy in their bathroom,” Reddin said.

Although several parents and board members have cited safety concerns, research shows that allowing transgender people to use toilets that conform to their gender identity poses no safety risk.

The discussion has sparked ongoing controversy in the district, with dozens of parents, students and residents flooding school board chambers in recent months to argue on both sides of the issue.

“I trust that no teacher or administration will ever withhold information about my child from me,” mother Melissa Hershey told the board. “A policy that allows or encourages teachers to hide things about my child is unacceptable.”

DC Hiegert, a legal fellow at the ACLU of Kansas, told the school board that she “shouldn’t give in to this community fear-mongering because the law is on your transgender student’s side.”

“The revised policy, as currently written, still violates applicable law,” the ACLU wrote in a letter to the board. “In particular, the policy still illegally forces transgender students to use the restroom or locker room based on their birth-assigned gender, and increases the likelihood of trans students being forcibly outed or given dead names and the wrong gender at school.” will.”

Gardner Edgerton High School teacher Jeffrey Cramer asked the board not to adopt the policy because of concerns for the safety of his students.

“If the board enacts the proposed policies for transgender students in our school district without serious thought or consideration of the consequences, I fear the outcome will be potentially traumatic and fatal,” Cramer said. “That kind of policy would be an outing policy and could do more harm than good. … And with a growing teacher shortage, this could potentially be another thing for teachers who worry about being fired if they don’t disclose such information and prevent a student from being outed.”

He urged the board to “make sure we don’t make a mistake that could lead to more deaths and pain. We cannot bear to add more names to the list of lost students just because our community made a bad decision and completely twisted the way these students function, live and go about their daily lives.”

The school board eventually decided to send out a survey to staff to gather input on the proposed policy. Huff said developing the right policy will take time and it’s unclear when the board will be able to vote on the matter.

This story was originally published Sep 13, 2022 12:57 p.m.

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Sarah Ritter covers K-12 training for The Kansas City Star. Sarah, a former reporter for the Quad-City Times, is a graduate of Augustana College.

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