Intense debate raged Monday as parents packing the house at the Dripping Springs ISD trustees meeting cast opinions on transgender students’ use of bathrooms based on their gender identity.
Over 30 speakers weighed in on the topic for the better part of two hours, which was ignited after a Walnut Springs Elementary student, who is a transgender girl that was born a boy, was allowed to use girls’ restrooms with stalls at the campus.
The board did not discuss the issue, as it was not on its agenda.
In a statement prior to the meeting, DSISD officials said they are “committed to providing an exceptional education and a safe learning environment for all students.”
“District policy prohibits unlawful harassment or discrimination against any student on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, national origin or disability,” the statement said. It went on to add the district is monitoring judicial and regulatory developments in connection with transgender rights students.
In the absence of clear guidance from the courts in regards to transgender student accommodation, DSISD handles individual student requests for accommodations on a case-by-case basis, according to the statement.
According to district officials, they take into consideration the age of the student, the nature of campus facilities, the activities the student participates in and the privacy interests of other students.
Several speakers during the meeting raised concerns regarding transgender students using the bathrooms, which range from safety and security issues, to potential litigation concerns. Several parents had qualms with the lack of communication between the district and parents on the issue.
Walnut Springs parent Blake Stotler said he was concerned for the safety of his “daughters and all students” and that the accommodation for the transgender student “directly affects our daughters and I wasn’t informed.”
“This district has violated our trust with the lack of transparency and not informing parents of what’s going on in our school’s bathrooms,” Stotler said.
Stotler said he had to explain to his daughter, who suffers from anxiety, why there “might be a boy in the girls’ bathroom.”
“To tell me this accommodation has no impact to other students is not accurate,” Stotler said.
Nicole Hodgens, who was representing the legal team with Texas Values, said the school district has the “duty to protect the privacy and rights of all students.”
Hodgens said the district’s policy “threatened the privacy and safety of students.” She said by the district not notifying parents, it has violated parental rights.
Jericho Loupe, who was opposed to the district’s policy, said there was a need to “protect our children.”
“Little boys go to the boys bathroom, girls go to the girls bathroom,” Loupe said.
But a vast majority of speakers were in favor of transgender students using bathrooms of their identity and lauded the district on its anti-discrimination policy.
Robin Jones said she knows there is “so much support in the district for all students.”
“I believe all should be able to learn in an environment free from discrimination,” Jones said. “I believe all students should feel safe at school.”
Natalie Schmidt, who is a senior at Dripping Springs High, said she has never felt threatened in district bathrooms.
Hays County resident Claire Bow, who is a transgender woman, spoke about the challenges transgender children and people face. She said transpeople are not “a new phenomena.”
“We have to recognize that we need a more expansive understanding of what gender means to each of us,” Bow said.
Others argued children don’t care who uses which restroom.
Walnut Springs Elementary parent Amy Reid said children “don’t see labels” when it comes to gender identity. Dripping Springs High student Natalie Schmidt said she wanted to remind the crowd “these are children we are talking about, not predators.”
Instead of turning this into a political statement, I’d like for everyone to remember the education and the safety of children and not adults in the working world,” Schmidt said.
Walnut Springs Elementary student Danielle Rodriguez said there are places where students would much rather be, such as learning reading, writing and math, than going to the restroom.
“It’s important to realize elementary students don’t care to spend time in the bathroom at school … it’s a quick visit,” the student said.
Parent Grant Tate said kids don’t care “who has a penis or who has a vagina” and that they care about their friends.
Ari Axelrod said people’s ideas in society were being challenged by the transgender bathroom topic “and that’s good and positive.”
“Public education is about inclusion and no one should be excluded,” Axelrod said.
James Akers, who has students in the district, read to the board their mission statement. He also said many people have taken to social media sites to express their support.
“If we’re concerned about safety and security, we should lower the speed limit on (U.S. Highway) 290,” Akers said. “It’s not little girls in the bathroom.”