Lynne Hermansen

Twenty parents filled the school board room Monday, Oct. 10 to continue sharing their concerns, feelings and opinions about gender neutral bathrooms in the high school on both sides of the issue.
The original proposal for “clearly defined” bathrooms was first submitted by Jeff Miller, board member, at the August School Board meeting.
The proposal requests clear definitions for male and female bathrooms and locker rooms with only the assigned gender permitted to use the facilities.
The proposal also states that any student who requests to be addressed by a different pronoun than the one assigned at birth has to have their parents or guardians notified of the request.
LGBTQ groups and the Kansas ACLU have voiced their concerns repeatedly that they fear the damage this will cause to students mental and physical health by not being able to use a bathroom they feel more comfortable with then the one they were assigned at at birth.
Elizabeth Fiedler, Gardner Edgerton High School Senior, said the difference between the two sides is that they want transgender kids to survive.
“Show kids you love them no matter what,”she said. “What you’re spewing up here is not welcoming. If they die think about if you had done enough to protect them.”
Fiedler said the school board was prioritizing lawsuits over lies.
“We should not have rights to privacy and expression stripped from them,”she said.
Devon Bettis, Gardner Edgerton High School Senior, said they had met with board members.
“I didn’t truly realize how much hatred and bigotry are on the board,”they said. “The policy says safety should come first. Watch students get kicked out of their house, disappear and chaos ensue. Students lives are in your hands. You adults need to step up to the plate and be more accepting.”
Joshua Johnson, a Gardner Edgerton High School Social Studies teacher, said he was a product of the Gardner Edgerton school district and proof of a high quality education but the recent events and discussions had uneased him.
“You are chasing phantom problems instead of concrete ones,”he said.
Christina Hodges, a parent of a high school student, said she wanted the students and LGBTQ community to know they were loved and supported.
“This generation of kids is impressive,”she said. “You’re able to see people as people.”
Teachers spoke out stating they were uncomfortable “outting” a student.
Hannah Binkley, student, said how the board had approached the policy was hurtful and damaging to students and didn’t address the harassment and bullying that would worsen from it.
“We are treated like people in costumes instead of real people,”she said.
Larissa Briscoe Gardner Edgerton High School, Junior, at said what the school board was doing was discrimination.
“It seems to me you don’t care about teen suicide,”she said. “You keep ignoring it. Monkey see, monkey do little kids will start hating too.”
Dr. Brian Huff, superintendent, said they had received a lot of input from the community and met with the high school student council.
“We want to have a dignified environment for all students,”he said.
Dr. Huff said they were moving forward with a proposal for an increase of eight unisex bathrooms in the high school for anyone to use during passing periods and they will be spread out through the building.
A new document had been made on staff handles trans situations, he said.
“It is not our goal to immediately out a student but encourage parent involvement,”Dr. Huff said.
Katie Williams, board member, said the guidelines don’t cover procedures for students already receiving support.
“What do you do for students already using their chosen pronouns,”she said.
Melissa McIntire, director of student support services, said it would be handled case by case.
“We would talk to students,”she said. “There would be no immediate phone call home. There would be a conversation. We always talk about the relationship with the parent. If there is potential harm we take a different path.”
McIntire said a student shouldn’t walk in the door surprised a parent wasn’t contacted.
Williams said what if a student doesn’t want their parent contacted.
McIntire said any time a student wants to be called something different they are going to ask about parent involvement.
“We don’t ever say let’s not tell your parent,”she said. “We always talk through every option. We are not going to out a student.”
Williams said how will the district dignify and support a student.
McIntire said in order to have accommodations for a student they have to get parental help.
“We are not trying to keep parents in the dark,”she said. “Every student is different and every situation is unique.”
Russ Ellis, board member, said he had concerns about counselors and staff being asked to do more than they were hired to do for the district.
“I know we are stretched thin,”he said. “I want to make sure students get the counseling they need.”
McIntire said parental consent for name and pronoun changes for a student would be required for students under the age of 18.
“If parents are not aware we will ask do you want to proceed and how,”she said. “We will inform the parent and set up a meeting. The request is denied if a parent doesn’t support. Situations where students are afraid of physical repercussions will be handled accordingly.”
Williams said would additional steps be taken to support the students well-being.
McIntire said any student who feels that they are at risk would be put on a list.
“We want every student to feel important because they are,”she said. “We don’t get into this business if we don’t think that.”
Ellis said he wanted to make sure counselors were available but the district’s proposal on bathrooms and pronoun procedures said it was a policy and not guidelines.
Dr. Huff said there were laws around the issue mainly through courts in regions outside the area.
“Ours is less defined,”he said.
Dr. Huff said they don’t have firm direction and the U.S. Department of Education wasn’t legally binding.
“We are caught in a very odd spot,”he said. “I imagine in the next few years we will have more direction.”
Williams said if case law changed locally would the district have to go through everything all over again.
Dr. Huff said KASB gives very little direction.
“We have no settlement here,”he said. “If it becomes more firm then KASB will probably come out with a policy.”
The proposed bathroom and pronoun policies are scheduled to be voted on at the Monday, November 7 school board meeting.