Obama transgender directive affects local schools

Impact of federal guidance on bathroom, locker room policies debated.

The Obama administration issued a policy Friday urging public schools to accommodate transgender students in bathrooms and locker rooms, prompting a wide range of reactions Friday from advocates, parents, lawyers and school officials across the Miami Valley.

Transgender advocates expressed appreciation and predicted school districts would take bigger steps, but a lawyer who represents school districts throughout Ohio said the policy was “not all that earth shattering” in relation to positions taken by the Office for Civil Rights for the U.S. Department of Education over the past 18 months.

Scott Inskeep, superintendent in Kettering, said the timing of the new guidance, near the end of the school year, was ideal for districts.

“I think it’s going to give us the opportunity to evaluate it and determine how it’s going to affect out district and our students,” Inskeep said. “Each district is going to have to look at it in the way it fits their district’s and community’s value systems.”

>>Related: Several local schools deal with student gender issues

Friday’s federal guidance brings the U.S. Department of Justice on board with the existing policies, lawyer William Deters II said. Otherwise it is generally in line with policies currently being challenged in courts around the country, he said.

“This position, taken by the federal government, is presenting significant challenges for educators,” Deters said.

While not mandating change, “today’s announcement by the Obama Administration is really important not only for transgender and gender nonconforming youth,” said Shawn Jessers of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) of Greater Cincinnati. “It’s also very valuable for schools and educators.”

It will enable school districts - concerned about backlash - to link the accommodations made with continuing to qualify for federal funding, he said.

“I think schools try to navigate that balance,” Jessers said, adding the directive, along with the federal lawsuit earlier this week with North Carolina over the state’s policy on transgender bathrooms, give educators clear direction.

Educators have been seeking guidance on how to comply with Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in educational programs and activities that receive federal funding, Education Secretary John B. King said in a statement.

“We must ensure that our young people know that whoever they are or wherever they come from, they have the opportunity to get a great education in an environment free from discrimination, harassment and violence,” King said.

The federal guidance calls for public schools to permit transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their chosen gender identity.

“There is no room in our schools for discrimination of any kind, including discrimination against transgender students on the basis of their sex,” U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a statement.

Local responses

Some school districts in the region have already made accommodations, despite questions from some parents.

The Troy school district made a boys’ restroom available for a transgender student. The Troy, Kettering, Trotwood-Madison, Centerville and Springfield districts made a clinic or staff bathroom available to transgender students.

Inskeep predicted Kettering will undertake comprehensive training and make changes while anticipating backlash from parents.

“We want to make sure we honor those students and also make sure we don’t dishonor other students,” Inskeep told WHIO TV. “It’s a tough decision.”

Mason City Schools “didn’t need the federal government to tell us how to treat students,” Tracey Carson, the district’s public information officer, said via email.

“We care deeply about each child in our schools and work with families to ensure that each child feels safe and included so that he or she can learn. If a child is identified as transgender, we work with that child, the child’s family and their medical professionals to ensure that we’re meeting our student’s needs,” Carson added.

While expressing concerns about his daughter encountering a transgender male in a school bathroom, Nehemiah Park, of Beavercreek, said people need to love all people and recognize contemporary culture, in spite of their personal beliefs.

“I believe the gender that you were born with is the gender you were created with,” Park said. “As you progress in life, you realize why you were created that way and born that way.”

Still Park said transgender youths need to be included in today’s society.

“It’s important to look at the culture that we’re in and be relevant to that culture,” Park told WHIO TV. “It does concern me as a father.”

On Friday, most school officials said they would be reviewing the directive before providing a detailed response on implications for students in their districts.

Dayton Public Schools is closely reviewing the directive, Communications Specialist Jill Drury said in a statement. “District administrators are working diligently to formulate an appropriate response when a thorough analysis is complete.”

In Warren County, Little Miami district officials said they would meet with district lawyers to decide how to respond to the directive.

“This is an evolving issue and we will be working on a plan to move forward. Little Miami, like many area school districts, has received ongoing guidance from its legal counsel regarding its responsibilities. The district will continue to do as it has always done with each of its students — work with families and staff to ensure that their children’s needs are met,” Superintendent Greg Power said in a statement.

Springboro Superintendent Todd Petrey said, via email, that district would “follow the law,” but did not elaborate on what changes would be coming.

At the beginning of the school year, the Troy Local Schools accommodated a student who asked to use junior high school restroom facilities matching the student’s gender identity. The student who had attended the district as a female, now identified with the male gender.

The school board followed a policy, approved several years earlier but not implemented until the request was filed, that allows use of restroom facilities matching gender identity. The district also said each school had a restroom available for any students or visitors who did not want to use the shared restrooms.

The policy resulted in protests by both supporters and opponents outside the board office and a couple of public meetings.

Under the district’s locker room policy, “given students’ state of undress in locker rooms, private changing/restrooms will be provided to a transgender student to allow for privacy.”

On Friday, Troy Superintendent Eric Herman said the district would continue these accommodations through the end of the school year.

“As we close out the year we have not had any problems in our restrooms. At this point, we are following our procedure in place and focusing on the end of the year and graduation,” Herman said.

WHIO TV Reporter Andy Sedlak contributed to this report.

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