Clovis Unified parents are pushing the school board to separate transgender students from the general student body in bathrooms and locker rooms, despite federal and state laws that protect those students’ rights.
The district is considering installing bathroom trailers separate from schools’ regular restrooms after hearing concerns from parents following the federal government’s directive in May that school districts should allow students to use the bathroom that fits their gender identity. Gov. Jerry Brown signed a similar state law in 2013, allowing transgender students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms of their choice.
Private bathroom trailers are being installed at two schools for now, and the district will monitor their use to determine if they are needed district-wide. This summer, the district spent thousands of dollars to transform unused shower space into private “changing stations” after hearing related concerns about locker rooms.
But a parent group called Stop the Madness says it’s not enough. At the Clovis Unified school board meeting on Wednesday, parents urged the district to fight to repeal the law, saying it’s unsafe for students.
“Since Obama came in, it’s been all about equality. This whole equality thing has trickled down now into the education system, and it’s creating a mess,” said Matt Castiglione, who has five children in the district and is running for a spot on the Clovis Unified school board in November.
Stop the Madness is endorsing Castiglione, who says the district’s piloting of the bathroom trailers is a Band-Aid approach and will only perpetuate bullying. He says to support transgender students would be against his Christian faith.
“Either way, it’s discrimination. The ideal plan would be to forget separate bathrooms and go back and fight the state and repeal the law,” Castiglione said. “This is a safety issue. My girls don’t want to be put in that situation where a male is changing in their locker rooms or can come into their bathroom.”
Ivette Lee, a Clovis Unified parent, told the board that on Wednesday, a 9-year-old boy in the district came home from school “distraught and confused” because he witnessed a girl sitting down using a urinal. She said she had permission from the boy’s parents to share the story, but did not provide details.
Lee pointed to an incident earlier this year, when the district made national headlines after it refused to adopt a gender-neutral dress code despite warnings from the American Civil Liberties Union that the policy was illegal. Then, several parents came out in favor of keeping the strict dress code that some said was harmful to transgender students, and even offered to bankroll any potential legal battles the district may face because of it. In a revote, the board ultimately adopted a policy that complies with gender expression laws.
“I told you so,” Lee said Wednesday. “I told you if we allowed the dress code that we would open a can of worms. Here we go again.”
Local transgender advocates showed their support for the district’s privacy accommodations on Wednesday. Clovis Unified spokeswoman Kelly Avants said that the accommodations are for any student who wants privacy.
“We didn’t react to just one side of the issue. Both sides of this issue are desiring privacy and respect, and that’s what we’re offering,” Avants said. “As a district, we refuse to make it about AB1266. From the district’s perspective, it’s about the kids. It’s not about the adult attitudes toward a societal topic.”
Mike Stovall, a leader of Stop the Madness, said that parents are unheard and feel like the majority of students are being affected out of concern for the minority. According to him, about 20 students in the district identify as transgender.
“I don’t want to come across as bashing transgender students or any other special interest catch phrases. We just want to protect our kids,” Stovall said. “All the district has done so far is put a curtain up. If you’re a teenager or a preteen and there’s a girl behind a curtain, you’re going to peek behind the curtain. It’s a normal, natural curiosity. It’s common sense.”
Stop the Madness is calling for 50 single-stall bathrooms with locks across the district, but the school board has estimated that would cost up to $26 million. The district is still determining what the cost will be to use the trailers being piloted at two schools.
Jacob Belemjian has children who attend Clovis Unified and is a candidate for the school board. Belemjian, who owns a gun range in Clovis, said that state and federal laws are not in line with Clovis values, and that this is a time for “separate but equal” facilities.
“We cannot have people doing whatever they want. We’ve taught our kids they can be whatever they want. If you think you’re a boy, that’s fine. If you’re not sure, that’s fine. If you want to be a bum, that’s fine. If you want to smoke weed, smoke weed,” he said. “But it doesn’t work that way. There’s a natural order to the universe, and we are trying to buck that order.”
Steven Fogg, an ophthalmologist and Clovis Unified parent who is also running for the school board, said the district needs to strike a balance between preserving “the Clovis way” while also upholding the law.
“The world around us is changing. The laws are changing. It’s a tough situation to figure out how we maintain our high standards and also be inclusive and follow the laws,” Fogg said. “I think where the board has struggled is communicating with the community.”
Alexis Davila, a 2010 Clovis Unified graduate who is transgender, thanked the school board but said the community’s outcry was concerning. She criticized parents’ frequent use of Christianity as their reason for being against the transgender community.
“It’s easy to go ahead and judge from a position of privilege. Nobody stops to think what you’re doing to these children. These kids are being damaged by your words,” Davila said. “If that’s what you’re saying your god is, what do you think it’s going to make people like me think about your god?”
Superintendent Janet Young said that Clovis Unified has done more than any other district in California in response to parents’ concerns about the bathroom law.
“We have a law we’re committed to upholding, and that means as a public school district, it is our charge to protect all students’ health, safety and well being,” she said. “All means all.”
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