Board questioned about transgender bathroom use
By Kaitlyn Clay, Staff Writer, [email protected]
Nearly 100 Lanesville community members attended the school corporation’s board of trustees’ meeting last Tuesday evening in hopes of getting some clarification on a legal issue regarding transgender students.
The issue in question was at what point is it appropriate for a student who has stated they identify with a different gender than the one they were physically born as to use their chosen-sex bathroom.
Sunnye Bush-Sawtelle and Gordon Ingle of Ingle Law Office, the corporation’s attorney, gave a presentation to the board and community members on the legality regarding this issue. The pair explained that, while this has not been an issue tried with the Supreme Court, it has been an issue in the Seventh Circuit Court, which Indiana falls in, thus providing some sort of precedence.
Bush-Sawtelle cited a Whitaker v. Kenosha case tried in Wisconsin in 2017. The case occurred initially because a student who identified as a transgender male was barred by his school from using boys’ rest rooms, and administration directed him, instead, to use either girls’ rest rooms or a locked single-user bathroom far away from his classes. Ultimately, the court ruled in the student’s favor and held that the school’s treatment of the student violated Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause.
The court held that “a policy that requires an individual to use a bathroom that does not conform with his or her gender identity punishes that individual for his or her gender non-conformance, which, in turn, violates Title IX.” The court also squarely rejected the school district’s arguments that other students were harmed by the student’s use of boys’ rest rooms, writing that harms to other students asserted by the district were “speculative and based upon conjecture, whereas the harms to [the student] are well-documented and supported by the record.”
Many Lanesville parents and community members had numerous concerns and questions regarding this issue, however. As the court does not directly lay out any requirements or definitions on how a transition process should occur, or at what point a student should be able to use the preferred gender rest room, many people attending the meeting were fearful that anyone could identify as the opposite gender for a day and put their children at risk.
Numerous speakers from the community also expressed their desire for the school board to develop policies and procedures that will more clearly define this topic. However, the board was lenient to speak on the topic or field questions from those attending.
“I find it hard to believe the board didn’t come prepared for this,” Chan Bailey, a former Lanesville school board member, said. “I just want to make sure we are also talking about what we can do to protect other students who aren’t the one transitioning to feel safe.”
Superintendent Steve Morris said he believed the board was not in a place to answer the community’s questions at that time regarding policies. However, he did say this has been a situation the school has been “dealing with and working with a specific student on for the past two years or so.”
“We don’t have a defined process to deal with this case, as this is the first time we have had to,” Morris said. “We will work on one, but the process has to protect the confidentiality of every student. I do not envision someone coming into our schools and saying they are a different gender just to get in that rest room.”
Others in the audience suggested scheduling another board meeting once school trustees are willing to answer questions from the community. A few cited their Christian values as why they were not comfortable with allowing anyone into any bathroom stall, and a Lanesville student tried to offer a suggestion she thought could potentially work.
“I think it’s important to talk to the students who are at the school each day,” Natalie Crawford, a senior at Lanesville, said. “As a student, I don’t feel my opinion is represented. We have staff bathrooms around the school. It seems like all we would have to do is change those signs and make the bathrooms safe for anyone to use.”
Board president Sharon Rothrock, a former teacher at Lanesville, said, while she thinks this issue has nothing to do with the education of the students at Lanesville, the board would do what they could to protect the students.
Board vice president Margaret Meyer, a former teacher at another school corporation, said the board will look into different policies that they could consider, in hopes of developing procedures for these instances.
In other business at the meeting, the board unanimously approved the re-opening plan for the 2021-22 school year. The first day for students is today (Wednesday). Students can expect to eat lunch in the cafeteria and all the water fountains have been uncovered (after being covered during the COVID-19 pandemic) for them to use as well. Directional arrows advising students which way to walk in the halls, put in place during the pandemic, have also been removed.
Masks will remain optional, according to Morris, unless case numbers begin to rise and school superintendents are advised otherwise.
The board is scheduled to meet again on Tuesday, Aug. 17, at 5:30 p.m. in the high school cafeteria.