GARDNER, Kan. — The Gardner Edgerton School District is navigating through legally murky waters as the school board continues discussing policy related to transgender students’ use of school restrooms and their preferred pronouns.
In July, school board member Jeff Miller proposed a new policy requiring transgender students to use restrooms that correspond to their sex at birth. The original proposal also required students and staff to be referred to using pronouns that correspond to the sex listed on their individual birth certificate.
Last month, the board heard from dozens of students, parents and community members about the proposed policy.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Kansas also sent the school district multiple letters, highlighting concerns about how the proposed policy may put students at risk.
On Monday, the school board reviewed a revision to the proposed policy requiring parent approval for students to have their name or pronouns changed on official school documents.
“It doesn’t necessarily reflect everybody’s wishes, but keep in mind that it’s trying to balance a lot of competing ideas. We want to care about all kids, but we also know parents want to be included in decision making,” Superintendent Dr. Brian Huff said.
The proposed policy would require transgender students to use either a gender-neutral restroom/locker room or a restroom that corresponds to their sex at birth. When a school activity is sex-specific, students will only be allowed to participate in activities corresponding to their sex at birth.
Melissa McIntire, director of student support services, said all student name change requests will be handled on a case-by-case basis. McIntire said a student’s chosen name may be used in informal settings, but a student’s legal name will be used in the district’s official records, including on the student’s transcript unless a parent has specified otherwise.
The board also reviewed guidelines for school counselors working with students who request a name change or other accommodation related to their transgender status.
According to the proposed flow-chart, if a student requests a pronoun or name change, a teacher will encourage them to speak with a school counselor. A student can then meet with a counselor to discuss their request without the school notifying the student’s parent.
“We always talk through every option. Ultimately, if it’s not an abusive situation and when the student is ready, our goal is to tell parents. If a student is absolutely not ready and they are not asking for an accommodation, we’re not going to out that student,” McIntire said.
If a student were to request an accommodation, like a formal name change on their report card or school accounts, that student would have to share the request with a school counselor. The counselor will then inform the student that name changes or requests for support services will require permission from their parents or guardian if the student is under 18.
If a student tells the counselor that their parents are unaware of their transgender status or their request for an accommodation, then the student will be given two options. The student may choose to withdraw their request or they may work with the counselor to determine the best way to tell their parents about their transgender status and accommodation request.
If a parent does not support the request, and the student is under 18, then the request will be denied. McIntire said if a request is denied, the district will continue monitoring a student’s mental health and physical well-being after having that initial conversation with the student’s parent.
“Any student we feel is at risk or experiencing trauma or discontent, we are going to put on a list. We might talk about them at care team. At minimum, counselors will be doing regular check-ins. We may refer them to our social workers,” McIntire said.
If a parent supports their student’s request, then a meeting will be set up between the student, their parents and a school administrator to review the requested support measures.
Boardmember Russ Ellis raised concerns about the proposed process potentially taking counselor attention away from other students’ needs.
“I know we are stretched thin in SPED (special education) and we’re asking counselors to step over and help [with the process], but I think it’s turned into the whole day.” Ellis said. “I just want to make sure our students are able to get the counseling that they may need.”
Katie Williams expressed concerns that the policy may affect how comfortable students feel discussing their gender identity with their teachers.
“I’m not transgender, but coming out to my parents was never an option, so it’s probably one of the hardest things that these kids are going to have to do. It’s a major concern of mine,” Williams said.
No formal action was taken on the proposed policy Monday. The school board is expected to continue discussion on the proposed guidelines at the next regular meeting in November.
In the meantime, Huff said the district plans to add eight new unisex restrooms at the high school.
“Our goal is that every student who wishes to use the unisex restroom can use the unisex restroom in the span of a passing time. They should be spread out through the building to give every student that opportunity,” Huff said.