Parents angry about transgender policy debate in Bethel schools

Bethel High School

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Bethel High School

School board cites attorneys, says it must follow case law on bathroom accommodation.

The Bethel Board of Education heard more than 90 minutes of public comments Monday as part of a tense discussion on how the district is handling transgender students and restroom accommodations.

Superintendent Justin Firks said transgender rights are not a new issue for the Miami County district. A student whose family had approached the district had access last school year to other accommodations, including a staff restroom. The family this year asked for equal access, which was provided, he said Tuesday.

Board President Lydda Mansfield said the district already follows its policies on anti-harassment and anti-discrimination. It has also been advised by two lawyers that it must follow case law from the courts outlining accommodation, she said.

To that end, the school board on Monday reviewed a proposed resolution that would direct administrative staff to formalize guidelines for addressing student identity issues. The board had discussion on that issue in a closed, executive session, and no action was taken later in the meeting.

The proposed resolution called for determination on whether a policy or administrative guideline update specific to transgender student restroom use or gender identity was warranted.

The board listened to an array of comments from speakers, who were limited to five minutes each.

“There is an attempt to bring perversion into this community,” one man told the board to applause.

Another speaker referred to growth in the district and already hard-to-monitor problems in the restrooms, such as smoking and vandalism.

“Are you saying my child should be OK with being partially or fully undressed and in a vulnerable position alongside the opposite biological sex in the same bathroom or locker room?” she said.

“This is not about transgender students at Bethel Local Schools. I truly emphasize with them. This is about the 1,700 other students who now feel uncomfortable and unsafe on their campus,” she said. “What about their mental health? What happens if their parents threaten to sue? What will it take to open your eyes? You have opened a Pandora’s box.”

While the board heard adults’ comments Monday opposing access, Firks said he had not heard concerns from any students.

To help address public questions, the board said it would schedule a community question-and-answer program with experts in legal and other issues. A date for that program will be announced when set.

No physical changes have been made to restroom facilities so far, but the district maintenance staff is looking into options, Firks said. A “frequently asked questions” document shared with district residents stated installation of ceiling-to-floor stall partitions in some restrooms was being explored.

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