Lynne Hermansen

After months of student protests and debate from board member Jeff Miller’s proposed policy in July, the Gardner Edgerton School Board voted 5 to 2 to adopt the policy that would prohibit transgender children from using their preferred restrooms or participating on sports teams with the gender identity they are comfortable with.
Board members Katie Williams and Greg Chapman dissented.
The policy states students must use the facilities and participate on athletic teams that align with their sex at birth.
Elizabeth Fielder, Gardner Edgerton High School student, has organized many protests and spoken out at board meetings with concerns about transgender students’ mental health and high risk of suicide from the types of policies the school board adopted.
“You have been elected for parents to be able to choose what happens in their kids’ education,” she said. “But parents have a choice. One where they show their kid love and acceptance no matter their identity. Or one where they treat children like predators.”
Fiedler said the kids were just trying to be themselves and weren’t predators.
“I am here telling you there are people being creepy in our bathrooms,” she said. “It is not the trans students.”
Fielder said there has yet to be a single student come and tell the board the policy is need and protects them.
Larissa Briscoe, Gardner Edgerton High School junior, said the policy threatens LGBTQ+ students mental health.
“What you guys are doing is more harm than good,” she said. “You school board members have shown me that you don’t care about teen suicide.”
Cecelia Volks, Gardner Edgerton student, said they should be worried about male administrators peeping into women’s restrooms and walking in unannounced more than trans students.
The proposed policy also requires teachers to use students’ birth pronouns. District staff and legal counsel came back to the board with a proposal that has been scaled back meeting after meeting.
The policy states staff should keep a student’s transgender or gender nonconforming status confidential unless a student allows them to disclose it to their parent or guardian. School staff will be required to notify the student’s parents or guardian if the student requests separate changing rooms, etc.
The new policy is updated from last month’s version which asked staff to notify parents if their student asks to go by a preferred name or pronoun.
Students and supporters said that could put LGBTQ students at risk by unintentionally “outing” them without their consent.
Williams said the policy still puts children at risk of being outed to their families against their consent because the policy states a staff member has to refer to the student with their name in all circumstances.
The school board is ignoring guidance from legal counsel, she said.
Williams has continued to emphasize that the school board continues to put the district at risk for being sued and legal litigation, including by the ACLU.
Chapman said he voted against the policy because the board rejected to fund an expansion of unisex restroom facilities in the high school.
District staff requested $80,000 to add a half-dozen additional unisex restrooms for the high school. The bathrooms would also add more accessible accommodations for students with disabilities.
The board voted against the additional facilities 2-5.
Kristin Schultz, former board member, said dragging the issue out the last four months had done nothing but retraumatize students.
“I will take this moment to tell these students that despite the outcome you have the right to be yourself,” she said. “You’re not alone. Your fight is our fight.”
Schultz said special education students are another marginalized group that also have rights “whose fight should also be our fight.”
“Their needs continue to decline with such severity teachers have gone to public comments as way to voice very real and very immediate concerns,” she said. “And it appears that board members continue to not hear them.”
Schultz said special education continues to suffer from the backlash of constant Para turnover, teachers with not enough training and certified positions remaining unfilled.
“Stop talking and start doing,” she said. “Stop wasting resources for policies on problems that don’t exist to concentrate on things that do matter.”
Williams and Chapman said they had concerns about changing tables in the bathrooms for those in need, changing tables on floors and a lack of privacy.
Superintendent Brian Huff said all but one restrooms, were ADA complaint and are accommodating or can be for students with special needs.
He also said there are currently a couple of restrooms that can easily be converted into unisex bathrooms by changing signs, but additional bathrooms and accommodations would require construction.
Dr. Huff said future board approval would be needed for construction.
Board members said they needed more answers if bathrooms would have enough accommodations for special education students before they could approve funding.
Chapman said he needed assurance that there would be enough bathrooms available for students who need them.
“You’re asking me to approve a policy when you could potentially never approve the $80,000 or whatever the cost is, to do the changes for the restrooms that are required to make this feasible and accessible,” he said.
Chapman said he had several meetings and conversations with transgender students.
“I understand the policy fixes a lot of other things,” he said. “It helps with our staff feeling more comfortable on both sides of how to handle situations. I absolutely understand that this policy is needed. I understand this policy is going to help a lot of people. But that was my initial support was because of the restrooms. And now I have to trust that the board will approve the funding.”
The district said they plan to have five unisex restrooms by the end of the month. Violators of the new policy will be disciplined.
Brenda Thompson, parent, said she thought spending $80,000 on more restrooms was ludicrous.
“Please listen to the parents of this district,” she said. “Our kids need help, not another place to pee.”
The policy also states students will be allowed to participate on sports teams that correspond with their sex at birth. It states the district doesn’t segregate classes by sex, except for physical education and health, students may be divided by gender. Transgender students would be allowed to participate in the class or academic activity that conforms with their gender identity with parental consent.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas has continually said the policy violates federal law and isolates and harms transgender students.
D.C. Hiegert, LGBTQ+ fellow with the ACLU, said the policy would not only negatively impact trans students’ mental health, it could also threaten the district’s federal funding and open the school board up to potential costly litigation.
“The law is on the side of trans students’ rights,” he said.
Hiegert said courts that have considered the issue have held that Title IX prohibits districts from adopting these types of discriminatory policies because of “community concerns.”
“People do not have the right to keep trans students out of restrooms that align with their gender but trans students do have the right to use the restroom that aligns with their gender,” he said.
Hiegert said discriminatory restroom policies such as Gardner Edgerton’s proposed policy were rooted in prejudice and unfound fears of trans students.
Tom Reddin, school board president, said he voted in favor of the policy because they are covering all their bases first.
“I want to have a safe environment for everybody,” he said. “I want to take care of everybody. But I am getting lots of emails and stuff that this isn’t just the transgender community, we’ve also got special needs children we want to make sure we are covering.”