Lynne Hermansen
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People’s preferred pronouns and the school district’s bathroom usage policies were the topic of an added agenda item at the Monday school board meeting.
Jeff Miller, council member, brought forth a proposed general statement of policy to each board member with a request to add it to an already heavily scheduled meeting.
Miller said many parents and staff had reached out to him about the school district’s rules and procedures for bathrooms and locker rooms.
“The proposed policy is for Gardner Edgerton to maintain an effective learning and working environment that is clear and consistent,”he said.
The drafted policy had six points with subtopics underneath ranging from the sex of a person is their physical identity listed on their birth certificate and legal documentation, male students and staff being referenced by male pronouns, female students and staff being referenced by female pronouns, insuring the privacy and safety of bathrooms and changing areas by enforcement of exclusive use for males and females but will also provide reasonable accommodations for those who don’t want to comply, the policy not applying to custodial staff and emergency services and violations resulting in disciplinary action.
Miller said parents and guardians of USD 231 students can take action for noncompliance of the policy.
Greg Chapman, board member, said the item needed to be tabled for further discussion and looked at carefully because they shouldn’t vote on a written policy without the consent of an attorney.
Dr. Bryan Huff, superintendent, said it was a hot button issue the district had already gotten the discussion ball rolling on.
“We want to follow the direction acceptable to the community and also hold water,”he said.
Katie Williams, board member, said the policy as presented was infuriating.
“We are here to value every kid and this doesn’t,”she said. “How is punishing anyone for whoever they want to be going to foster a culture of trust.”
Russ Ellis, board member, said gender identification was a distraction in school and didn’t think the item should be tabled because bathroom usage was a real problem in schools.
Tom Reddin, newly elected board president, said they needed to come to a middle point where they value everyone without violating others rights.
Dr. Huff said the courts hadnt been subtle in how to address transgender issues with bathrooms and locker rooms and there were multiple directions they could take that are legally acceptable.
“We should be concerned with the dignity of all of our students,”he said.
Lana Sutton, newly elected board Vice President,  said she had also received calls and emails from concerned parents and guardians and heard they wanted their kids referred to as their biological sex.
“I heard about what children are experiencing and exposed to,”she said.
Dr. Huff said the proposed policy item was an excellent example for the district to look into putting together a policy review committee when they build their committees.
“It ought to go through a process in a deliberate way to get community input,”he said. “We should take a slower approach.”
Sutton said they should consult with legal counsel before proceeding with any decisions.
Reddin said in the meantime they still had to provide accommodations for other children.
Dr. Huff said didn’t the district already have a practice in place for male, female and gender neutral bathrooms.
“I’m cognizant of unique circumstances,”he said. “We need to be inviting of all students to participate in educational services with a dignified experience.”
Ellis said he wanted to know how the district would handle “furries” and litter boxes, as he had heard a rumor that a student had requested a litter box.
“It’s a place for education and an environment to learn,”he said.
Children identifying as animals and requesting litter boxes for their bathroom was a hot social media topic last Spring that school districts across the country debunked as false.
Staff said students request unusual things time to time but they had not heard about this request being made in the district. They said with IEPs, 504s and trauma informed care their main focus was making  adjustments for social supports.
Williams said supporting a policy like the one proposed would increase suicide rates, and they should consider that given the concerns for suicide rates everyone had during the pandemic.
Chapman said the LGBTQ population was the leading group on suicide and continued to press for the item to be tabled.
Reddin said he wanted to reiterate the district already provides gender neutral bathrooms.
Sutton said the issue wasn’t a new one.
“I don’t want kids called out of school so they can use a bathroom they are comfortable with,”she said.
Williams said what was the district’s policy on preferred pronouns and do they respect what the student wants.
Staff said the district doesn’t have a policy and staff goes by an individual basis.
Ellis said the problem was also filtering into sports.
“How far are we going to go,”he said. “You either have a Y chromosome or you don’t.”
Dr. Huff said several districts had gone through the ringer over the years on the topic.
“I prefer to wait and be vetted,”he said.
Dr. Huff said it was an uncomfortably fast timeline for a policy to be ready for a vote by the August 15 school board meeting.
Board members voted to put it off for two months to have a more thorough policy presented at the September 12 meeting.
Ellis Miller dissented.