(New Carlisle, IN) - Over 125 people packed the Olive Elementary school gym Monday night. Following their regular board meeting, New Prairie School Board members held what they call a “Let’s Talk” session regarding the school district’s bathroom policy for transgender students.
In August, district leadership went public with an updated policy that allows students in grades K-12 who identify as transgender or nonbinary to use the bathroom and locker room of their choice.
Prior to public comments Monday night, New Prairie Superintendent Dr. Paul White reminded the crowd that the school board’s decisions are largely bound by federal regulation and legal precedent. “We are a public school,” he said. “We are not a private school; we are not a religious school. We cannot just pick and choose what we do.”
Many parents questioned whether the transgender policies are legally necessary, as the school board has been advised by their legal counsel. Others worried that the policies would spill over to athletics, as has happened in other school districts.
The concern voiced most by parents centered around parental rights. The district’s current Gender Support Plan gives students the option of not telling their parents about any special gender accommodations made for them. “Please tell me how having someone lie to their parents about a huge life decision is good for their mental state,” said Erica Clark, mother of four boys in the school district. “Because of this and the sneakiness behind it,” she told board members, “I have lost trust in you.”
Parents also voiced concerns about the effects of the policy on the over 99 percent of students who do not identify as transgender or nonbinary. One father of a high school girl reported that last year a transgender male was using the girls’ bathroom. When his daughter immediately left the bathroom, she was later allegedly harassed by the transgender student via school emails. Other parents noted teachers who ask for students’ preferred pronouns in class and enforce their use among other students. Board President Phillip King told the crowd that such incidents should not be taking place and will be investigated.
About twenty people spoke during the public session, which lasted nearly an hour. Critical comments outnumbered support for the policies about seven to one.
Kathy VanLue of New Carlisle was one of the few who spoke in favor. A longtime pediatric nurse, VanLue applauded the administration’s policies. “They [transgender kids] need our schools and our community to support them,” she said. Turning to the crowd, VanLue admonished those who are not more open-minded, saying, “Every single person here either has a relative, friend, coworker, et cetera that leads an alternative lifestyle, whether you know it or not. And you need to ask yourselves, why are they afraid of you if they have not come out to you?”
Many parents admitted they have not paid much attention to school district matters in the past but will be more attentive in the future.