The culture wars surrounding bathrooms and who can use them died down for a few years as states suffered economic backlash from organizations discouraged by the legislation and policies they inspired. But transgender legislation and policies have again come to the fore, as seen in Stillwater over the past month.
It’s a national trend.
On March 25, Kimberly Kindy reported in The Washington Post that efforts by conservative organizations fighting LGBTQ rights have resulted in the filing of nearly 200 state bills this year that seek to erode protections for transgender youth and or to restrict discussion of LGBTQ topics in public schools. .
Stillwater Acting Superintendent Gay Washington previously told News Press that the district was trying to avoid being dragged into a highly contentious issue.
Stillwater Public Schools are under fire from a group of people – a combination of students’ family members, local ministers and people with no connection to the schools – who say they fear the girls are harmed if a transgender student is allowed to use the girls’ restroom in any of the public schools.
Rumors have swirled about a transgender student attending Stillwater Public Schools, but the district has not confirmed this or directly addressed the issue except to clarify its bathroom policy.
On April 7, Washington sent a letter to the families that it said responded to those rumors. She asked people to focus on problem solving rather than “us versus them”.
The district had had no reports of incidents in the restroom and said they would be treated as a disciplinary matter if there were any, she said.
Washington said she’s been getting questions about the district’s restroom policy since February. Several people approached the Board of Education at its March 8 meeting to question and oppose what they believed to be a change in district policy to allow a transgender student to use the restroom that match their gender identity.
But Washington said the district’s restroom policy has been in effect since 2015. It follows Oklahoma State School Board Association guidelines for enforcing anti-discrimination measures under Title IX.
A single-cabin bathroom is available for any student who feels uncomfortable in the shared restroom for any reason and wants privacy, Washington said.
Since then, Ryan Walters, Governor Kevin Stitt’s appointed education secretary — an advisory post — who is seeking the elected position of state superintendent of public instruction, has jumped into the discussion, sending a letter on his state letterhead to the Stillwater Board of Education accuses him of “choosing radicals over your students, ideology over biology, and ‘revival’ over security”.
He also sent a letter to Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor stating that “leftists like those in Stillwater are abusing legal precedents…to advance their agenda of letting biological men use the girls’ bathroom.” and urging him to “take action by any legal means”. means necessary to protect the most vulnerable among us, our children.
On April 8, O’Connor sent a letter to Washington stating that advice the district likely received from the State Department of Education is not accurate.
A cited U.S. Supreme Court decision does not actually extend Title IX to areas such as bathrooms and locker rooms, he wrote. The Biden administration’s guidelines are guidelines only, not binding, and a Fourth Circuit decision does not apply because Oklahoma is not part of the Fourth Circuit.
On April 12, 25 speakers registered to address the Council, some to oppose ‘boys using girls’ toilets’ and others to ask for support and compassion for transgender students.
Before the speakers began to share their thoughts, members of the School Council offered their own comments.
Outgoing board chair Camille DeYong said she thought long and hard about what she wanted to say and noted that new board chair Tim Riley was giving each commentator an extra minute that night, because he is convinced that people must be heard.
“We have so many good things in Stillwater,” DeYong said. “The toilet issues that many people will talk about in a few minutes are not simple, even though they have been described as such. That being said, this advice is listening.
“We are listening to our constituents…Those who have called, emailed and texts both in support of the practices we have had for years in schools, as well as those who are scared and angry. We listen to our legal experts and the advice of state agencies, and for me, I listened to my heart and my pastor.
DeYong went on to list the abusive comments she says board members and school staff have received. She asked people to stop confronting school staff and sites and limit their criticism and comments to those elected to represent them on the school board.
“We were called liars, told we needed to repent, we needed to retire, and were possessed by the devil, among other things,” she said. “Although it’s not fun to hear, it’s not a problem. That’s why we were elected, to endure this kind of heat. The problem is when one of our directors is told that he is going to hell, our teachers are questioned about their beliefs and our students are put in a position to try to defend ideas with which they may or may not agree or even understand. We have six weeks of school left… Let’s focus on what we all agree on, student safety. Please, please refrain from contacting anyone in our central office, our site administrators, our teachers, our staff and, most importantly, our children. Send us emails, texts and calls. Let our schools end and enjoy the normal first year we’ve had in a very long time. »
The SPS Board of Education has scheduled a special meeting for 5 p.m. Monday where it will discuss issuing a resolution asking the Oklahoma State Department of Education and the Board of Education to Oklahoma State clear guidance regarding the use of student restrooms and guidance on how to implement these guidelines. He would also ask the governor to approve such a rule.