After hearing public input from over 15 individuals at its meeting Monday, the Vermillion School Board concluded that it has more work to do when it comes to developing a restroom gender policy for the school district.
Near the end of the meeting, school board President Doug Peterson wrapped up what the board needs to do in the coming weeks regarding the development of a policy that outlines restroom use for students and individuals of all gender identities.
“What the board will be doing now is they have charged the Policy Committee with drafting language for consideration so that the board, in its discussion, can determine what draft policy changes might look like in comparison to draft practice changes or, a.k.a., procedural changes,” he said. “I don’t want anyone to think that this constitutes the first reading of the policy. The goal in our discussion centers on any policy change, we would make sure we get that out to the public so that they would have the ability to view that at a meeting and as with all policy changes, there would be two meetings.
“What we are hoping is that the policy committee will be able to come back and at that Sept. 13 meeting, we would have that draft language to begin consideration and discussion,” he said. “I think the goal is to actually have that language by probably the Thursday prior to that so that it can be put out to the public through the (school district’s) web site.”
Waiting For Feds
It has been expected that guidance on restroom gender policy would be coming from the federal Department of Education and the Office of Civil Rights some time in August. So far, that information hasn’t been received, but if it does arrive soon, Peterson said, that may provide guidance to the Policy Committee. Whatever may happen, he said, the public will be given notice so they once again can provide input.
The issue became the focus of attention when, during a special meeting last week, Superintendent Damon Alvey told board members that from time to time, requests are received for students to be able to use bathrooms opposite of their birth gender.
The school district has been using a standard practice in dealing with gender issues regarding restrooms, but it has no policy in place. That has some board members fearing that the school district could be unintentionally violating individuals’ civil rights because of its lack of a policy.
With notice that restroom gender issues would be discussed at Monday’s meeting, the City Hall meeting chamber where the school board was meeting had an audience of approximately 30 people and a majority of the individuals gave their input.
Safety vs. Privacy
The opinions heard by the school board were nearly evenly split, with some people voicing concerns about the safety of their children if a student who identified as a person opposite their biological sex – a male student who identified as a female and wished to use the girls’ bathroom, for example – was allowed to do just that.
Others who addressed the board spoke about the importance of making sure that all students attending the district’s public schools were not fearful to do so and were not made to adopt restroom practices that would reveal to their peers gender issues that they wished would remain secret.
Lindsey Jorgensen, the mother of a child who attends school in the district, told board members she is in support of a practice change and policy implementation that is consistent across the district.
“I strongly support that children are able to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity,” she said. “As the parent of a child whose gender matches the sex he was identified at birth, it would be impractical to ask him to use a separate bathroom.”
Jorgensen said her son also has a strong sense of empathy and will ask her why a classmate would have to use a special bathroom.
“Singling these children out is not acceptable or good for their mental health,” she said. “To support mental health, safety in our schools and ensure that everyone gets the same education, a practice change and policy implementation is necessary. I fully support the rights of all children. I just want to teach him (her son) to not look under the stall at anyone else who is going to the bathroom.”
Jakob Skelton, the father of three children, two of which are old enough to attend school, said he is concerned about the discussion at the previous school board meeting “in regard to allowing biological men into biological women’s restrooms. This scenario, in our mind, shouldn’t be allowed.
“We currently have two daughters in the school system and so safety is our primary concern for them,” he said, “ahead of any hurt feelings or feeling uncomfortable. Certainly, we want everyone to feel comfortable at school, but that should not take precedence over the physical safety of our daughters.”
Skelton noted that current school district practices allow students who desire to use a restroom that doesn’t match their biological sex are welcome to use a single stall unisex restroom. He added that he doesn’t understand why that isn’t a workable solution.
Care And Counsel
“As a pastor, I’m required and responsible before God to care for our congregation and certainly all of our families and individuals of all ages,” said Harvey Opp, “and certainly, as adults we are to teach and counsel children.”
He added that children aren’t expected to make life decisions at their age, such as “changing” decisions that are irreversible.
“I have to hold to God’s word and I think we all are responsible to do that, really,” Opp said. “God’s word is truth and our government, even, was founded on basic principles of the scriptures, the truth.”
In today’s culture, he said, the truth is being denied and twisted.
“It’s rather strange as you are a school board and teaching and counseling children and now we are having questions about something as simple as biological truth that a child is born with,” Opp said.
He said loving care and counsel is needed instead of a policy that can endanger and cause serious consequences for individuals who do have a problem “with having transgenders come into a bathroom that is not theirs. Loving counsel is really what is needed, not accommodation, as it were, which is really harmful.”
Mark Daniels, whose children include a transgender man who just graduated from the University of South Dakota and today works as a nurse in Sioux Falls, read a letter to the board at the request of a parent, like him, of a transgender individual who attends a school in the Vermillion School District.
The letter writer noted that “our daughter didn’t choose to be transgender or choose to be a girl any more than you or I explicitly choose not to be transgender or choose to be a boy.”
The letter author stated that in virtually every way, “our daughter is exactly like every other girl in her class.”
When it's time to use the bathroom, the parent wrote, “our daughter has been told that she needs to do this one thing differently than every other kid in her class and, of course, the other kids want to know why.
“Her only choices seem to be to accept these reprimands and subtle accusations, ignoring the questions from her classmates, or to reveal one of the most intimate, personal things about her body to people she barely knows,” the parent wrote. “That’s not okay.”
The parent wrote in the letter to the board “We would like the change to gender-affirming bathroom rules across all schools to happen as quickly as possible and an affirmative statement consistent across school buildings that transgender students can use restrooms matching their consistently-affirmed gender identity.”