Public, School Board Voice Transgender Restroom Policy Concerns

VERMILLION — The fate of a proposed transgender restroom policy for the Vermillion School District remains an unknown currently. Board members had entered their second hour Tuesday night of hearing public input and discussing various aspects of the policy at the time this story was written.

Nearly all the public comments the board heard from the public Tuesday were against adopting a policy. People addressing school board members included a tearful mother who believed the policy would bring “darkness” and “evil.” The board also heard concerns of the policy accommodating a small percentage of the student population while perhaps negatively affecting a vast majority of students.

“With all of the comments tonight, is it our intent as a board to work through this and make the changes and do a first reading or is it to get more input from what we heard, send it back to Policy (the district’s Policy Committee) and keep moving it forward?” school board member Jim Peterson asked. “There were a lot of comments in the group tonight. What is the next step?”

He added that he had some legal concerns regarding the policy.

The draft of the proposal, which has been available for the public to read on the school district’s website for several days, touches on a variety of issues with what drafters hoped would be conclusions that would put people’s concerns to rest and provide solutions for students who identify as a gender that differs from their assigned sex at birth.

The proposal states that the school district “will make arrangements with students regarding dress code, restroom and locker facilities, overnight accommodations on school trips and participation in activities. These arrangements should be based on the student’s or parent’s wishes, be minimally burdensome and be appropriate under the circumstances.”

Other portions of the policy deal with communications, publications and sports.

The portion dealing with confidentiality states: “A student has a right to keep their status as a transgender student private at school. The district shall keep this information confidential and staff shall not disclose this information unless legally required.”

Peterson expressed concerns about part of the proposal.

“Legally, if somebody is under 18 and came to a counselor and said, ‘I want to be this versus that,’ do we, as a legal obligation as the school, do we have to inform the parent or not?” he asked.

School attorney Brent Matter indicated that such information would be strictly between the student and his/her doctor or counselor.

School board member Shane Nordyke noted that the district’s goal should be to protect and advocate for that student and to understand the needs of that student.

“It’s important that there is communication to the school, so I wonder if we can just change that sentence to ‘communication with the school is key’ so that it’s not just encouraged but that we are requiring communication with the school because that puts us in the best place to be able to meet the needs of that student,” she said. “I think that’s what that sentence (in the proposed policy) is trying to communicate, not necessarily to the student’s parents.”

Peterson again expressed his worries about this portion of the policy.

“Are we as a district liable because we did not tell the parents and can the parents come back to us, legally?” he asked. “Do we as the district want the counselor or the principal … or the administrator to make that determination? You haven’t told the parent. You haven’t asked for permission. I don’t know the answer; what is our intent, what do we want?”

Nordyke replied, “I think if a student has identified to a counselor that they have safety concerns with sharing that information with a parent, that confidentiality with a student has to be respected. I think that we would be putting ourselves in a dangerous place to ‘out’ a student to an unsupportive family situation if the student has identified that is not a safe place.

“I think if we had a policy other than that, you’re preventing a student from talking to the counselor to begin with,” she said.

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