Gibraltar Crafts Inclusive Restroom Policy

School board will take up the policy May 8

With about 20 residents in the audience Monday, members of the Gibraltar School District’s Policy Committee heard support, advice and only a little resistance to nondiscrimination guidelines that have been controversial in some regions of the nation.

Policy Committee chair Jessica Sauter said the district – like many others in Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana – is following rulings from the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals pertaining to a Kenosha, Wisconsin, case in which the school district had to grant a request from a transgender high school senior who asked to use the boys restroom while at school. The school district had denied the request, indicating that the transgender student’s presence would invade the privacy rights of male classmates.

The ruling means that districts may not deny access to a restroom based on gender identity. Sauter said the court ruled that simply providing gender-neutral restrooms did not go far enough, and the student should have the right to choose the unisex restroom or either the girls’ or boys’ restroom.

During Monday’s meeting, Sauter said that while building the new addition to the middle school gym and the center of the school during the next two years, the district will create unisex restrooms, as well as restroom, dressing and shower stalls with floor-to-ceiling walls and lockable doors for privacy. 

After some questions about phrasing in the district’s proposed policies, Superintendent Brett Stousland said the district will work to create similar privacy in the standing portions of the school during demolition and construction, with curtains initially envisioned. He said, however, that he would meet with construction specialists this week to provide reconfiguration costs and plans to create more permanent privacy structures or floor-to-ceiling walls and doors in parts of the school that are not included in the construction project.

Policy Specifics

Stousland noted that the policy does not allow for a student to simply show up one day and say that she had decided to identify as a boy and change locker rooms or restrooms. The policy directs the district to consider whether the student has identified as transgender over a period of time (two residents asked that the policy be specific about that amount of time), whether “the student has identified as transgender consistently across all environments,” whether the student has parental or guardian support, and whether the student has sought guidance or counseling in coming to the decision.

Resident Ed House spoke in support of the board’s months of work in crafting the policies, but he questioned a clause at the end of the policies that said the “district reserved the right to address disagreement between student and parents with respect to this policy on a case-by-case basis.” 

House said he understood “the spirit” of the language – that most of the time the district would follow specifics in most of the policy – but said the “letter of” that language could embolden an administrator to “step in” to the middle of family matters or make arbitrary decisions not based on the details in the body of the policy.

Stousland said the provision to give the administration some decision-making leeway in some situations was language added by legal counsel, but he said he would ask the lawyer again whether the verbiage needed tweaking. 

Resident Angela Sherman, a former school board member, said it’s not uncommon language, and there are similar paragraphs in policies throughout the policy book.

Opinions from Audience Participation

Olivia Lowry of Northern Door Pride applauded the Policy Committee for working to “foster a safe and welcoming environment for all of our students.” Resident Mark Weborg, watching the meeting on Zoom, also applauded the committee, saying “these policies are needed.”

Resident Patrick Voight did not speak out against the policy as a whole, but he expressed concern about clauses within the proposed policy, such as one that made it unclear whether, or at what point, the district would need to inform parents that a son or daughter wanted to be assigned to a restroom or shower stall that differs from the student’s sex at birth.

One person who commented said that rather than protecting students, allowing boys to use the girls’ restroom, or parents allowing boys to dress as girls, will only subject them to bullying and derision from peers at a young age. 

Resident Emily Krayna, a member of Northern Door Activism, said she believes having these types of policies in place helps to reduce depression and can ultimately lower suicide rates among students who are transgender or gender-nonconforming, or who have different-than-usual gender identity or ways of expressing gender through clothing, hairstyles, activities or mannerisms. She said it’s important to not marginalize people, and she doesn’t believe “there’s a button you push” and suddenly decide you’re transgender.

Resident Melissa Northrop said the policy does not specify at what point the district administration would say no to a boy’s request to start using the girls’ locker room or a girl’s request to start using the boys’ rooms. 

Several residents questioned how the district would decide whether male or female staff members would check on students or conditions in the restrooms or locker rooms, and board members noted that the users would have privacy within the stalls. 

Northrop said she believed students using the restrooms matching their sex at birth and students making a request for change would be safer if they were allowed to use either a unisex facility or the restroom, shower or dressing room matching their sex at birth.

Resident and parent Anna Knapp told the committee it should not revise the policy as it was presented this week and should approve it as is at the May 8 meeting. She said people need to understand that transgender students are not dangerous, are not voyeurs and are not “going to be exposing themselves to other kids.”

Athletics and Dress Code Addressed

As for athletics, a proposed policy states: “Students who are transgender or gender-nonconforming may participate in athletics governed by the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletics Association (WIAA) in a manner consistent with the requirements and policies of the WIAA.”

Regarding a dress code, it states: “Within constraints of the district’s dress code policy, students may dress in accordance with their gender identity. School personnel shall not enforce a dress code more strictly against transgender and gender-nonconforming students than other students.”

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