A Center Grove High School student is tired of going to the nurse’s office to use the bathroom.
Emery Lindsey is asking school officials to find another solution for where transgender students such as him change in locker rooms or use the restroom.
Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Education released guidance that transgender students should be allowed to use the restroom they feel most comfortable with. If school officials refuse, the district risks losing federal funding.
Center Grove is asking for feedback in a community forum planned for this summer.
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The school district includes transgender and transsexual students in its anti-discrimination policies, which say that no one can be discriminated against based on his or her race, sex, gender or color. On Thursday night, Center Grove approved a revised non-discrimination policy which clarifies the language on discrimination against people on the basis of transgender status, sexual orientation or gender identity.
But the school district does not have a rule on what restrooms or locker rooms transgender students should use.
For Lindsey, that has meant that he goes to the nurse’s office on the second floor of the high school to use the restroom, an agreement worked out between Lindsey and high school officials.
“I would just really like it if I could go to a bathroom that I prefer to go to,” Lindsey, a junior, said. “I just think it would be best if I could go to the bathroom that’s already provided.”
Lindsey was one of four people who spoke at the school board meeting this week in response to the federal departments’ guidance on the rights of transgender students.
Center Grove also asked an attorney to clarify what options the school district had in response to the federal departments’ guidance.
Attorney Michelle Cooper, who specializes in education law and governmental services at Lewis & Kappes in Indianapolis, spoke to the school board members Thursday about what they can do if they want to update their bathroom or locker room use policy.
“This is challenging for schools and even more challenging because right now, there is uncertainty in the law,” Cooper said. “It’s going to put schools in a position of really having to balance the interest of the equality of transgender students with other interests that you hear from other not-transgender students regarding things like privacy and those types of interests.”
Cooper said the school district has five options: Choose to ignore the guidance, convert all restrooms to single-stall unisex facilities, designate unisex bathrooms throughout the high school, work with transgender students to find the best solution for them and allow students to choose on their own whichever restroom they want to use.
Cooper also suggested the school board poll the community in some way to see what concerns residents have with any approach the school district may choose, she said.
School board members did not make a decision this week. Officials will host a community forum to find the best solution for transgender students, superintendent Richard Arkanoff said. The school board members can then hear comments from parents and the community, Arkanoff said.
Lindsey, along with former Center Grove students, shared with the board how they plan their restroom breaks, including using the nurse’s office bathroom, or taking a break during class instead of using time between periods.
Carol Phipps, who had two children graduate from Center Grove, said that her youngest son Frankie transitioned from female to male in his senior year, she said.
He felt uncomfortable using the girls’ restroom since he looked like a boy, Phipps said. And Frankie didn’t think he could use the boys’ restroom, so instead, Frankie would find empty restrooms or leave during class when no one would be using the bathroom, Phipps said.
Although Lindsey would like to be able to use the boys’ restroom, he knows other transgender students may not, he said.
In the coming months, Lindsey hopes the school board hears from everyone who is passionate on the issue, and finds a solution that works best to fit all of students’ needs, he said.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activist Aimes Dobbins dropped out of Center Grove three years ago, also losing a scholarship through the 21st Century Scholars program for college tuition, Dobbins said.
“I thought about taking my own life because I felt like the people in my community were not taking care of me in the way that they should have,” Dobbins said.
“Do not let what happened to me happen to anyone else.”
Dobbins had asked about civil rights for transgender students, and was told to use the nurse’s office restroom, which was not the best solution, Dobbins said.
“This should not be a debate. These are civil rights,” Dobbins said.
“What I urge you to think about is that this is delicate. This is somebody’s identity. We are young minds, and to say that somebody’s identity is invalid, to say that they’re gross or disgusting, like I’ve been told, to say that they make people feel uncomfortable just for being true to themselves, it’s wrong.”
Arkanoff said the school board will be researching the issue in the coming months.
If the school district updates its policies on what restrooms or locker rooms transgender students should use, the school board would be voting on the new rules before the next school year, Arkanoff said.
The school district also is planning training this summer for teachers and administrators about the sensitivity of transgender issues, and how to work with students who have gender identity issues through the Indiana Youth Group, an organization that provides education on the LGBT community.
School districts have five main options for how to address transgender needs in their school buildings. Here’s a look at the five options:
– Choose to ignore the federal guidance from the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Education
– Convert all restrooms to single-stall, unisex facilities
– Install designated unisex bathrooms
– Work with transgender students individually to find the best solution for them
– Allow students to choose whichever restroom they want
SOURCE: Michelle Cooper, education law and government services attorney for Lewis & Kappes