Vermillion School District

A group of approximately 30 residents of the Vermillion School District visited the April 24 meeting of the Vermillion School Board, and urged its members to develop policies that address the needs of transgender students.

Serving as spokespeople for the group were Rachel Kerby, a parent and psychologist, and Jae Puckett, a psychology professor with the University of South Dakota whose research involves transgender and LGBT issues.

“It is exciting to see that the school board’s mission is to look out for children first and foremost, and I’ve seen that in my own kids’ lives, and I’m amazed and I applaud all the efforts that you all do to make this a safe and wonderful school for our kids,” Kerby said. “Tonight the issue I come to you with is for a population of students that you may not know about. It is a very small population of students, but, as we know, we protect the rights of all students so it is an important population as well, and that is for our transgender students.”

“We are here to represent a group of local parents and residents of Vermillion who would like to provide assistance to the school board to assure a welcoming, inclusive environment and educational experience for transgender students,” Puckett said.

“Our goal in coming to you today is to speak with you about crafting a policy to address the needs of protection and safety and privacy for those students,” Kerby said. “One of the things that we’re hoping to do is to be able to work with you and provide information and research and models that other districts have used to help make this a seamless process that provides those needs and protections for those students without it being very disruptive for the district.

“Our goal is to see that children at any age are able to use the bathroom for whatever gender they identify with, and also that they have options for privacy. That second part, I think, benefits more than just transgender students,” she said. “Having those options, and making sure that students are aware of them – having that communicated clearly so that all of our students know that they have options in terms of privacy and where they can use a restroom, and also the openness to have their rights protected to be able to use the restroom in which they identify with.”

“We would like the school board to consider a policy that allows transgender students to use the restroom facilities of the gender they identify with, and for them to not be restricted to facilities that are sex at time of birth. We suggest that students have access to a single stall restroom in the case that they are more comfortable with that arrangement,” Puckett said. “Ultimately, this should be the students’ decision, and they should be able to access the restroom of the gender they identify with and not just have a single-stall restroom. This is the recommendation of several national professional organizations, including the American Psychological Association. It is important to note that previous Title IX interpretations have supported that type of policy as well.”

Puckett noted that research has identified various challenges that transgender students must face that compromise their educational experiences.

“For instance, we know that transgender youth generally feel unsafe at school compared to their peers who are not transgender. In one study of over 10,000 LGBT students, over 75 percent felt unsafe at school,” the USD professor said. “In addition, 60 percent of transgender students say that they were forced to use a bathroom that did not align with their gender identity, the gender they live in every day.

“We believe every student deserves the right to an education without facing a school day with fear and worry about how other people are going to treat them in relation to their gender identity or gender expression,” Puckett said. “Moreover, if students are not allowed to use the bathroom of the gender they identify with, this creates huge barriers to their abilities to engage in their educational experiences.”

Puckett said their own research studies show that not having access to the restroom of the gender that you identify with is associated with greater levels of depression and anxiety, as well as less personal acceptance of your gender identity.

“Not having access to the facilities that one needs impacts the educational experience of transgender youth, and likely their mental health,” they said. “This policy that we’re suggesting is important for all levels of education, including for younger children and older children.

“We hope that you will take this opportunity to live out the school board’s mission of looking out for our community’s children and assuring them access to a quality education,” Puckett said. “We look forward to seeing you pursue this further, and I’d just like to say that you have a roomful of people here who are really invested in being able to support you through that effort.”

The school board took no formal action following the speakers’ presentation, but indicated later in the meeting that the issue likely will be discussed at board retreat scheduled this summer.

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