The Pickens County school board met Tuesday afternoon, went into a closed session and said they wouldn’t be taking any action Tuesday.
Photo: Arlinda Broady / ABroady@ajc.com
Photo: Arlinda Broady / ABroady@ajc.com

Pickens schools’ transgender bathroom question not settled yet

Pickens County schools will not let a transgender student use the bathroom for the gender that student identifies with, after all. At least not for the time being.

Superintendent Carlton Wilson had decided to allow that earlier, then backtracked, saying he would put the decision on hold until he and the board could discuss the issue further.

Related story: Transgender bathroom issue riles Pickens parents

Related story: School district to allow transgender student to use preferred bathroom

The board of education called an emergency meeting Tuesday but immediately went into an executive session, closed to the public.

“Y’all are welcome to stay as long as you like. It might take 30 minutes, it might take three hours,” said Tucker Green, board chairman. “But once we come back, we’re just going to adjourn and go home.”

“I brought a blanket and a pillow,” said Randy Ray, one of those attending. “I’m not leaving until they do.”

Some of the dozen or so residents at the meeting asked why the discussion couldn’t take place in open session.

“The law allows us to discuss certain things in private,” Superintendent Wilson noted.

It was in executive session during the regular board meeting on Oct. 9 that the decision was made to allow a transgender student to use a bathroom that wasn’t designated for the student’s birth gender. Wilson has said that decision concerned a process, not a policy — therefore the board didn’t need to take a vote.

Tuesday’s closed board meeting came the day after a town hall style meeting the board had set to hear about the issue, which drew about 900 people. Parents at Monday night’s meeting had complained that letting students use whatever bathroom they wished would result in chaos. Some said a group of boys went into the girls’ restroom as a joke.

Wilson said the new process had addressed that: “Any student that enters a restroom other than the one assigned their gender on record with the school will have their parents contacted,” he said. “If it’s not an issue of gender equity, that student will be suspended … and banned from all extracurricular activities including prom.”

Many in the crowd were angry that it appeared one person made the decision without consulting parents and other community stakeholders.

Parent Tommy Davis suggested that there may be political fallout for the school board.

“You may have won the battle but you’re not going to win the war,” he said, gesturing toward board members. “It may not be on the ballot this go-round, but there will be an election for your seat.”

A backdrop to Pickens’ grappling with the transgender bathroom issue are recent federal court cases where schools were accused of violating Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, which bars discrimination “on the basis of sex.”

In May the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal in a case in which a non-transgender student argued that accommodations for transgender students in his suburban Philadelphia district violated his right to “bodily privacy.” That meant a lower court ruling, which upheld the school policy allowing transgender students to use locker rooms and restrooms matching their gender identity, stands.

The outcome of a Florida case could take the controversy further. In that one, a transgender student who had been living as the boy since 2015 was denied access to the boys’ restroom by his school. In 2017, his freshman year, he used the boy’s restroom without issue. After someone made an anonymous complaint, he was told he could only use the gender-neutral restroom.

In July 2018, a federal court ruled that the policy violated the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and Title IX. The school district filed an appeal, which is set for oral arguments in December.

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