Some small Idaho school districts said Monday they are developing policies around transgender use of public restrooms in their schools, following a letter from President Obama Friday asking schools to let gender identity guide which facilities students use.
Schools say they have heard little complaint from district residents. And they are looking to set policies before a problem erupts in their districts.
Gov. Butch Otter sharply criticized President Obama’s plan Friday asking schools to allow transgender students to use school bathrooms that match their gender identity as a mandate, “overreach” into local control of schools and an “offensive attempt at social engineering.”
Obama “dictates solutions to very personal and sensitive matters that should be left to local school administrators, school boards, teachers, parents, students and communities,” Otter said.
“This is not a big issue for us now,” said Wayne Rush, Emmett superintendent. “We are not going to turn this into an emergency.”
Emmett School District has a transgender student, Rush said. The district worked with that student to reach an accommodation that includes using the bathroom that represents their biological sex, Rush said.
He anticipates bringing a policy proposal to the board of trustees this summer.
In the Idaho City area, Basin School District Superintendent John McFarlane expects to bring a policy to the board of trustees in early summer so it can be in place by the time school starts in fall.
He said he would strive to do what is best for the students, and said that can be at odds with the community or even the staff.
Basin School District has no transgender students, McFarlane said, but does have three openly gay students. They are treated with respect. There have been no fights, hazing or passing of notes, he said.
“I want kids here to be and feel safe and welcome,” McFarlane said.
Boise School District officials say they will review the Obama directive, but believe their policies incorporate the federal government’s plans for transgender students and school bathrooms. In a statement sent to all schools earlier this year, Boise district officials said “under federal civil rights law, the district is required to provide access to public facilities consistent with the student’s gender identity.”
West Ada School District will review its policy in light of the Obama administration’s direction. The district works with individual students to come up with a plan that addressrd their concerns, such as including the name a transgendered student will be to called to use of bathroom facilities, said Eric Exline, district spokesman.
The Obama letter amplifies a national debate over gender identity and privacy that was kicked off by North Carolina’s law declaring that transgender people must use public bathrooms, showers and changing rooms that match the gender on their birth certificates. The state’s Legislature adopted the law to block an effort by the city of Charlotte that would have allowed transgender individuals to use facilities for the sex with which they identify.
The Justice Department and the state of North Carolina have sued each other in federal court, with both seeking a ruling on whether the state law conflicts with federal civil rights legislation adopted half a century ago.
North Carolina officials argue that their law protects people who do not want to use private facilities with people of the opposite biological gender.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch, in announcing that the federal government would take the state to court, had condemned the North Carolina law as “state-sponsored discrimination.”
The Obama administration bases its view on Title IX of the civil rights law, which says that schools receiving federal money can’t discriminate based on a student’s sex.
Christi Parsons, Times Washington Bureau contributed