Troy City Schools officials said they are following legal advice in allowing a transgender student to use the school restroom of his new gender.
Troy Superintendent Eric Herman said school officials were approached just before school began Aug. 19 by a junior high school student. The student had previously attended Troy schools as a female, but declared he is a male and asked to be able to use the boys’ restroom.
After consulting with legal counsel, the district sent a telephone message to parents Friday afternoon, saying that denying a student’s request to use a restroom that matches the student’s gender identity is prohibited under federal Title IX. This information was also shared with the student and his parents, Herman said.
In addition, parents were told that each school has a restroom available for any students or visitors who do not want to use the shared restrooms. Parents were told to call Herman or any building principal if they had questions.
“We try to make sure all of our kids are safe and protect their rights. It is a big job,” Herman said. “We are trying to work our way through it the best we can. My role in this is to comply with the law as superintendent.”
Law, state approach
Sara Clark, director of legal services for the Ohio School Boards Association, said her office has gotten a lot more gender identity questions from school districts recently, citing media attention about the topic. The pinnacle of that attention came in April, when 1976 Olympic decathlon champion Bruce Jenner announced that he is a woman, taking the name Caitlyn.
“I think a lot of (students) who maybe haven’t been comfortable coming out at school or having the conversation with their school district are now having those conversations,” Clark said.
Clark wrote a November article on transgender students that was sent to Ohio school districts by OSBA.
On one side, the article says there are no explicit federal legal protections for transgender students, and while more than a dozen states have their own laws offering some protections on the basis of gender identity, Ohio is not one of them.
On the other side, Clark said the federal departments of Education and Justice argue that discrimination on the basis of gender identity or transgender status is “based on sex” and therefore in violation of Title IX (as Troy said).
The conflict creates a type of legal limbo that could eventually be decided by a Supreme Court ruling.
OSBA does say the state’s existing anti-bullying law for schools would cover “bullying or harassing behavior directed at a person’s gender identity.” Clark said transgender issues are widely misunderstood, and suggested school districts should provide training. OSBA is offering a training session Oct. 1 in what Clark called “an area of the law that’s changing quickly.”
“The whole goal is to treat it on a case-by-case basis, and what works for one student might not work for another,” she said. “Just have the conversations. It depends on the student, it depends on the environment, it depends on their comfort level.”
Some Troy residents are angry about the school district’s action.
Bryan Kemper of Troy, who said he has six children in district schools, said he was “outraged” by the district’s telephone message. He stood on Market Street near the board of education offices Monday morning with signs, one saying, “My students deserve privacy/No co-ed bathrooms.”
He said a community meeting for concerned parents would be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 1, at the Koinos Christian Church at 722 Grant St. in Troy. “This will not be a debate or a bash session, we want an honest conversation about something many parents and students are deeply concerned about,” an email about the meeting said.
Herman said late Monday the district had heard from an estimated 15 parents.
“Some people understood we are complying with the law. It is hard for them to realize or understand completely,” he said.
Herman said there were no complaints of harassment of the student in question, and discussions were held with the student and his parents. A protocol is being developed for handling of any other requests, he said.
Centerville City Schools Superintendent Tom Henderson said his district has worked with male students who identify themselves as female, having conversations with the student, parents, teachers and others at the school.
“We have a responsibility to make sure those kids are safe at school, and we would work through it at that particular school building,” Henderson said. “Typically you have a bathroom in a clinic, and we would set it up where if they were in phys ed class and the locker room was an issue, we’d have a clinic bathroom (that they could use).”
In Maine and Colorado, courts have ruled that limiting transgender students to a one-person, unisex bathroom like that, rather than the larger shared bathroom they identify with, is discriminatory. But Clark said those rulings were based on state laws, and Ohio does not have a comparable law.
Clark wrote in the OSBA article that “transgender support organizations consistently recommend transgender students be allowed to use the restroom that corresponds to their gender identity, and many districts have successfully implemented such a plan.”
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