Mark Daniels

Mark Daniels of Vermillion is pictured in a screenshot of the video stream of Tuesday night's meeting of the Vermillion School Board. He was one of several people who addressed the board about its proposed restroom policy.

The final form of a proposed transgender restroom policy for the Vermillion School District remains an unknown currently as the Vermillion School Board agreed, after devoting more than an hour to the topic, that the proposal needs to be further refined.

Board members also agreed that the policy should receive further discussion at a special meeting later this month after it receives further attention from the district’s Policy Committee. The policy may receive its first reading at that special meeting. If it does, it may receive its second reading at the board’s regular meeting on Nov. 8.

“I think we’re making the right progress. I don’t want to jeopardize the policy because we botched the way it appears on our agenda,” school board president Doug Peterson said.

The agenda for Tuesday night’s meeting lists “Transgender Restroom Policy” under unfinished business.

“I’ve been trying to look things up, like, does this count as a first reading? Does my saying I consider it a first reading make it a first reading?” the school board president said. “Does it need to appear publicly as a first reading? I don’t want to get challenged if we say ‘yes, this is a first reading.’ Next meeting we say second reading, we vote on it and someone says, ‘No, it was not under new business.’ … I think we need to make sure we get that part right and get it listed the way that it is.

“I believe that it should be a first reading at the very next meeting,” Doug Peterson said.

School district attorney Brent Matter indicated that a first reading of the policy could be held at the board’s next meeting.

“If that’s the case, could we schedule a special meeting so that this isn’t waiting until November given the amount of time we’ve taken on this issue so far,” school board member Shane Nordyke asked, “that we could have a first reading in a week, second reading in another week?

“My understanding is the (transgender) practice has not been changed across the district; it has changed in some places, but not in others or at least no change has been communicated,” she said. “I think there are still some students waiting on this policy change.”

Nordyke said she believes the policy should contain wording that includes a specific, documented concern for safety.

“A general, ambiguous concern for safety has been the reason that students have been denied this under our current practice for the last several years,” she said. “I think it needs to be a specific, documented concern for safety as opposed to just a general concern for safety so that might be language we want to change.”

Doug Peterson said, in his opinion, having the first reading of the policy at a special meeting would be okay.

“I would prefer the final vote would occur at a regular, scheduled meeting so that there is no public perception that we’re trying to do this behind closed doors,” he said.

As discussion continued, school board members voiced support for holding the first reading of the policy at a special meeting before the Nov. 8 regular meeting.

“The public could come; there could be an informational meeting of sorts, as well,” Doug Peterson said.

School board member Jim Peterson voiced support for holding the first reading of the policy at the board’s regular Nov. 8 meeting.

“I think we could get a better product,” he said, referring to the extra time the Policy Committee would have to refine the policy.

Nordyke said she believes the board should move more quickly and be prepared to hold the second reading and final vote of the policy at the Nov. 8 meeting.

“I would feel very uncomfortable waiting until December … to have the first reading Nov. 8 and the second reading later. We have kids in our district who have been waiting very patiently for us to work through this process,” she said.

“But it’s being worked through,” Jim Peterson said. “I can respect your opinion and I respect the district. I’d rather just take time –”

“This is just me respectfully disagreeing with what you asserted,” Nordyke said.

“I know. It’s up to the board to decide what we do,” Jim Peterson said.

School board members Rachel Olson and Carol Voss Ward voiced support of holding a special meeting some time before the Nov. 8 regular meeting.

“It looks like now the task falls to finding that meeting time, but we want to make sure we have, I’d say, a week between the two,” Doug Peterson said. “Hopefully, Policy (Committee) can go back to some of the things we talked about tonight and address some of those things.”

Public Comment

Nearly all the comments the board heard from the public earlier during the Tuesday meeting were against adopting a policy. People addressing school board members included a tearful mother who believed the “transgender issue is darkness infiltrating who God has created us to be.” She suggested the school district compromise by adding gender-neutral bathrooms in school buildings along with gendered bathrooms.

The board also heard concerns of the policy accommodating a small percentage of the student population while perhaps negatively affecting a vast majority of students.

“With all of the comments tonight, is it our intent as a board to work through this and make the changes and do a first reading or is it to get more input from what we heard, send it back to Policy (the district’s Policy Committee) and keep moving it forward?” school board member Jim Peterson asked. “There were a lot of comments in the group tonight. What is the next step?”

He added that he had some legal concerns regarding the policy.

The draft of the proposal, which has been available for the public to read on the school district’s website for several days, touches on a variety of issues with what drafters hoped would be conclusions that would put people’s concerns to rest and provide solutions for students who identify as a gender that differs from their assigned sex at birth.

The proposal states that the school district “will make arrangements with students regarding dress code, restroom and locker facilities, overnight accommodations on school trips, and participation in activities. These arrangements should be based on the student's or parent's wishes, be minimally burdensome, and be appropriate under the circumstances.”

Other portions of the policy deal with communications, publications and sports.

The portion dealing with confidentiality states: “A student has a right to keep their status as a transgender student private at school. The district shall keep this information confidential and staff shall not disclose this information unless legally required.”

Board member Jim Peterson expressed concerns about that part of the proposal.

“Legally, if somebody is under 18 and came to a counselor and said, ‘I want to be this versus that,’ do we, as a legal obligation as the school, do we have to inform the parent or not?” he asked.

School attorney Matter indicated that such information would be strictly between the student and his/her doctor or counselor.

Nordyke noted that the district’s goal should be to protect and advocate for that student and to understand the needs of that student.

“It’s important that there is communication to the school, so I wonder if we can just change that sentence to ‘communication with the school is key’ so that it’s not just encouraged but that we are requiring communication with the school because that puts us in the best place to be able to meet the needs of that student,” she said. “I think that’s what that sentence (in the proposed policy) is trying to communicate, not necessarily to the student’s parents.”

Jim Peterson again expressed his worries about this portion of the policy.

“Are we as a district liable because we did not tell the parents and can the parents come back to us, legally?” he asked. “Do we as the district want the counselor or the principal … or the administrator to make that determination? You haven’t told the parent. You haven’t asked for permission. I don’t know the answer; what is our intent, what do we want?”

“I think if a student has identified to a counselor that they have safety concerns with sharing that information with a parent, that confidentiality with a student has to be respected,” Nordyke said. “I think that we would be putting ourselves in a dangerous place to ‘out’ a student to an unsupportive family situation if the student has identified that is not a safe place.

“I think if we had a policy other than that, you’re preventing a student from talking to the counselor to begin with,” she said.

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