A transgender student at Rancho Bernardo High School in San Diego has sparked a heated discussion over the extent to which state law should accommodate such individuals.
The student who triggered the dispute was born female but uses the boys’ locker room.
Poway Unified School District hosted a board meeting Tuesday night which was packed with people raising questions about student rights.
Parent Holly Franz told the L.A. Times that she did not know that a biologically female student was using a male facility until three weeks ago when the spring semester resumed.
Franz said that she understood that the school had to comply with state law but suggested that the school make additional accommodations -- like curtains or some other form of privacy -- for non-trans students who may feel uncomfortable changing next to someone of the opposite sex sharing a changing room with them.
In response to such requests, transgender rights advocates launched a petition on Change.org asking the district to make no changes regarding the issue. The Times reported that as of Tuesday afternoon, about 1,200 people had signed the petition.
Those in favor of the petition viewed suggestions like those raised by Franz as discriminating against transgender students.
Trustees could not weigh in on the discussion, raised during the public comment portion of the meeting, as it was not part of the agenda.
"My son came home from school and told me there was a girl using the boys' locker room," Franz told the Times before the meeting. "This is someone he's known for years and has always been a girl. My son was very upset by this, and I called the principal."
The rules that went into effect in January 2014 permit K-12 public school students who are transgender or gender nonconforming to participate in classes and activities regardless of their birth sex. Transgender students may also use bathrooms and locker rooms without regard to their sex at birth.
Superintendent John Collins issued a statement before Tuesday’s meeting saying the district had tried to accommodate all students' rights since the law was implemented two years ago.
"Over the past two years, we have worked to ensure every student's right to privacy, as well as every student's right to feel safe, valued and included on our campuses," he wrote.
Opponents of the law predicted potential problems that could arise, including situations where boys would claim they were transgender in order to change in girls' facilities. A statewide referendum effort to abolish the law failed in 2014.
Kathie Moehlig, a parent in the district, told the Times she had been asked to be the spokeswoman for the transgender student's family.
She shared that she was concerned Franz’s request for student privacy would result in segregation of transgender students.
"She's fighting for things that the laws are clear about, and I applaud the district and principal of Rancho Bernardo High School in knowing the law and their legal obligation of protecting the students," she said.
But if the district were to provide private changing areas that could be used by all students, she said she would not object.
Franz told the Times she understood the district’s commitment to following the law, but argued that it hadn't been carried out well. She shared that she was considering taking legal action against the state to secure more privacy for students.
"Schools are working with students … based on what they are comfortable with or what their needs are," Don Buchheit, senior director for student support services with the San Diego County Office of Education, told the Times.
Every school in San Diego Unified School District has private restrooms available for any student to use, and middle and high school locker rooms are equipped with private changing areas.
"We haven't had any issues that I'm aware of like we heard in Poway," Linda Zintz, communications director of San Diego Unified, told the Times.
Though California state law requires school districts to allow transgender students to choose which restrooms and locker rooms they use, it is unclear regarding what steps each school should take to accommodate transgender and non-trans students.
(H/T: L.A. Times)
Front page photo courtesy of Shuttershock.