A parent is concerned about the lesson his sons will learn if Center Grove officials allow transgender students to use the bathroom they prefer rather than the facility for their birth gender.

“My heart just breaks that the school would potentially kill their innocence by allowing members of the opposite sex in their same restrooms and locker rooms,” Brian Wilson said. “Forcing them to use the same restroom, or even worse, locker room, as a member of the opposite sex next to them is just in direct contradiction to everything I’m teaching them.”

Nearly 300 people came to a forum Center Grove hosted to discuss what policy the school district should have, and parents raised concerns about their children’s safety and what message Center Grove schools would send by changing the policy on what restrooms and locker rooms students can use. They urged school officials to wait until state and federal courts rule on the issue.

Last month, the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Justice released guidance that said public schools should allow transgender students to use their preferred bathroom, not necessarily the one associated with their birth gender.

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Center Grove currently does not have a policy for transgender students, but students have used the nurse’s office bathroom or gone to the restroom during class to avoid running into other students if they are transgender.

Since first discussing the schools’ transgender policy at their meeting last month, school board members have received numerous phone calls, emails and letters, board president Adam Norman said. At last month’s school board meeting, the board members were given five ways that they could respond to the federal guidelines, including transforming the current bathrooms into single-stall restrooms, allowing transgender students to decide where they want to go or ignoring the federal government’s guidance.

School board members did not make a decision Thursday night. During the next few months, the board will discuss the options to decide if they will update the school’s policies, Norman said.

“We all know this is clearly an emotional issue,” Norman said. “People have very, very strong opinions about this.”

The majority of residents who spoke during the forum were against allowing transgender students to use whichever restroom they choose. Some parents asked the school board members to consider the possibility they will lose students to home schooling or private schools if they change their policies.

Parents said they want Center Grove to wait to make any decisions until they see how the state and federal government fare in court over the issue. Eleven states have sued the federal government, and until the lawsuit is settled, Center Grove should wait to change their policies to make them inclusive of transgender students, parents said.

“Our children should not be used as pawns of the state to rewrite the fundamental realities of life,” said Chris Philbeck, senior pastor of Mount Pleasant Christian Church.

Two Center Grove High School students and a doctor said they supported changing the policies to be more inclusive of transgender students.

“We’ve been here before, as history, as society. You just replace transgender with any other minority,” said student Alex Dixon. “Homosexuals can’t help that they’re gay, black people can’t help that they’re black. Transgender people can’t help that they’re transgender. It’s how they identify.”

One of the top concerns parents raised was the safety of their children. For example, teenage boys could claim they are transgender in order to assault or embarrass female students, Center Grove parent Kerry Thatcher said.

Rachel Valastek, a graduate of Center Grove schools, said she knows students would abuse an updated policy for transgender students because she was the type of teenager who rebelled against the student handbook rules, she said. Teenage boys will find loopholes through any policy the school board passes.

“Good policy does not risk the safety, privacy or personal security of children for a small minority who have a preference for a different bathroom,” Mount Pleasant Christian Church pastor Steve Schellin said.

Todd Kendall’s 10-year-old daughter asked him to speak on her behalf, since she is scared of the possibility of seeing a boy walk into the girls’ restroom, he said. And if Center Grove did allow transgender students to do so, his daughter would want to go to another school, he said.

“I never thought 10 years ago that I would have to talk to my daughter about something like this,” Kendall said.

Some parents said the topic shouldn’t be a debate.

“It’s kind of absurd that we’re even having this meeting,” said Center Grove parent Jay Hart. “We don’t have to be Christians, we don’t have to be scientists or doctors. We don’t have to be that just to understand the law of nature. This is just something that is natural.”

Decisions should not be made based on how people feel, Thatcher said.

“Anatomy and biology should determine who is allowed into which locker room or restroom,” Thatcher said. “Making policies based on people’s feelings is a dangerous precedent.”

Center Grove parent and doctor Sanjay Vyas said he faced a similar decision at his practice, Indiana Internal Medicine Consultants. He and his partners decided they wanted to make their lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender patients more comfortable, he said. They researched what patients may need, and realized they could benefit from a host of specific social, mental and physical treatments or programs that pertain to the LGBT community, he said.

“By doing so, it actually opened our minds a little bit,” Vyas said.

“I would ask all of you, and probably challenge all of us in the same breath, that we need to at least try to be welcoming in this respect.”

Dixon and fellow high school student Madison Hodges said parents should not be concerned about dangers from changing the policies.

“A lot of people are here on behalf of their families and their daughters with safety concerns. As a female student, I’m in the group of people who you feel would be threatened by this,” Hodges said. “I’m here to speak for that group of people myself. I don’t feel threatened by this at all.”

The policy change should be specifically viewed for transgender students, she said.

“I don’t think this is about transgender people. I think this is about you wanting to protect your fragile daughters,” Hodges said. “Instead of taking measures to prevent your daughter from being sexually assaulted, I encourage you to not teach your sons to sexually assault people.”

Both Hodges and Dixon agree that the possibility of students being assaulted is a serious concern, but that is a different issue that should be handled separately, they said.

“I think the biggest fear that the community has is the rape and things that can come with that,” Dixon said. “Well, that’s been going on way before this transgender bathroom issue ever came up. I think that if you’re waiting until now to talk about the issue of rape, then you’re too late.”

At a glance

School districts have five main options for how to address guidance from two federal agencies on what restrooms and locker rooms transgender students should use. Here’s a look at the five options:

  • Choose to ignore the guidance from the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Education that said schools should allow transgender students to use their preferred bathroom, not necessarily their birth gender.
  • 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