SELINSGROVE — For more than three hours Wednesday, the Selinsgrove school board heard various opinions about the district's new practice of permitting transgender students to use the bathroom or locker room of their choice.
Reaction was split in the crowd of about 300 people who packed the middle school auditorium to deliver their viewpoints for and against the practice.
Karl Voss, the father of a transgender student in the district, applauded the decision as "courageous" while parent Janel Showers said it violates the privacy of all children and should be revoked.
Both sides hope to sway the school board, which will be deciding whether to maintain the practice or revert to allowing students to use only restrooms and locker areas that correspond to their birth gender.
"It's a really unique decision," said moderator Paul Spiegel, a former board member. "There are real kids — our kids — affected."
Superintendent Chad Cohrs began the public forum by explaining that he made the decision in August to permit students who the district has verified to be transgender to use the facilities of their choice after parents of transgender students asked about it in the wake of the U.S. Department of Education releasing guidelines on the issue that Title IX also protects the rights of transgender students.
"Districts are stuck in the middle of a 'legal versus moral" issue," he said.
After consulting with the district's solicitor, Carl Beard, of Altoona, and reviewing court cases, he made the decision without informing parents of all district students. He also failed to get board approval.
Though the practice began at the start of the school year, a letter informing parents and guardians of the new practice wasn't sent out until mid-October.
"I take part (of the ) blame in the delay," Cohrs said, adding that it now appears the district will not be at risk of losing any of its $2 million in federal funding if it doesn't allow transgender students access to the bathroom of their choice.
The brouhaha over the controversial decision prompted the board to invite the public to give input.
Cohrs said the board will take the comments, both verbal and written, into consideration as it decides whether to keep the new practice.
Josh Bodene, a Lititz attorney with the Pennsylvania Family Institute, chastised Cohrs for making the decision without board support and said it puts the district at risk of lawsuits from parents of non-transgender children that "you have forced in a compromising position."
Some raised Christian viewpoints and others spoke about the difficulty transgender people face, including increased risk of bullying, harassment, suicide and assault.
"Don't use assault as an excuse. You are not the only people" who have been assaulted, said Amy Stauffer.
Several people like Showers said the privacy of all students should be considered and urged the board to scrap the new practice.
Bob Geipel said it was wrong for the district to jump the gun and act on a directive that might be moot.
"Wait and see what the Legislature does," he said.
Voss, standing with his wife, Chanin Wendling, said transgender people are using bathrooms that match their gender identity in public places all over.
"When you go to the mall, to a restaurant, to a sporting event," he said. "Forcing a transgender into a bathroom they don't belong will cause much more harm. I am proud this district has chosen to support them."
Christopher Kalcich, a transgender sophomore student, said he doesn't want to be forced to use the girl's bathroom at school when he feels like a male.
"When someone looks at me and doesn't see me, it hurts," he said.
Student Arin Lohr said he's been using the male bathroom at school for a month without any problem and asked the board not to roll back the practice and force him and other transgender students to use the one, single-use bathroom in the high school.
"It's degrading and embarrassing," he said. "I don't want to be seen as an issue. I want to be seen as a male, because that's what I am."
The school board's next public meeting is Dec. 5.
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