A GROUP OF ATTENDEES at the Corunna Board of Education meeting wearing “Protect Trans Kids” t-shirts Monday, May 16. The “Protect Trans Kids” group has formed an advocacy organization via social media under Protect Trans* Youth in support of the LGBTQ+ community and allies in recognition of transgender rights.
Protect Trans* Youth organizer Ashley Windnagle, who decided not to speak during the meeting, later shared, “To me it feels like there is a lack of understanding from people who are opposing the restroom policy of who transgender people are.”
(Independent Photo/Melissa Shepard)
The Monday, May 16 Corunna Board of Education meeting was not the usual type of meeting. During the public comment section, around 13 speakers stood up and gave their opinions on the way the district is handling the issue of transgender bathroom usage. Before December, transgender students were using single-stall bathrooms in the schools. This was previously arranged after families talked with school officials. About five months ago, one transgender student, who started out using the single-stall bathrooms, started using the group bathrooms aligned with their professed gender. After parents heard about this, they made their opinions known during the April board meeting.
The school district was advised by Thrun Law, the district’s legal counsel, that to deny access of a student’s restroom choice is a violation of several court rulings. School administration allowed this usage to continue.
During the public comment section Monday evening, opinions were divided. Parents, a Corunna Public Schools student, members of the community and members of local groups stood up and expressed their opinions. Most were opposed to allowing transgender students using facilities of their choice and were concerned about privacy and comfort for other students.
Ashley Rathbun, wife of Republican candidate for the 71st state Congressional district, Kevin Rathbun, and mother of four children attending Corunna Public Schools, publicly acknowledged her appreciation that the Corunna School District Board Members and Corunna Superintendent John Fattal sat down with her to talk. “To me, it’s not about discrimination or harassment, it doesn’t matter to me what color you are or what gender you are. This movement is about acknowledging all kids’ voices,” she said. She went on to give statistics about the number of kids sexually assaulted in Shiawassee County. “Privacy, bathroom and locker room use should give every child the level of comfort they deserve,” stated Rathbun.
Bonnie Wood, a retired health educator in Shiawassee County and minister, talked about how education was founded on the United States and Michigan Constitutions – and that it rested on the Christian Bible. She said, “politics is not on God’s shoulders, but Government is.”
Others who commented gave alternate solutions to the situation, including floor to ceiling dividers in bathrooms.
Once the public comment section of the meeting was finished, one third of the 80 some people in attendance left prior to addressing school-related items on the meeting agenda, including many members of Stand Up Shiawassee.
Corunna Superintendent John Fattal stated that the board appreciated hearing from everyone and that they do listen to everything that is said about the issue. Regarding the comments that were made, there may be some legal opinions that are opposite of what the district’s attorney told them. “We had Thrun Law firm and MASA, Michigan Association of School Administrators, both concur that it is well settled law that schools must allow students to use the restroom based on his or her identity, by case law,” Fattal said.
The board has qualified immunity, which means they can’t be held liable for any decisions that they make. So long as you do not make a decision that is plainly incompetent and/or where you knowingly violate the law. “Based on the legal advice we have received, they told us that we would be knowingly violating this law if this board made any decision, at some point in time, to say that they were going to not allow transgender students to use the restroom of their choice, said Fattal.
Fattal stated that the district is “investigating floor-to-ceiling stalls,” and that this could be completed before the start of school in August. On the issue of locker room usage, Fattal was advised that they were considered a separate issue from bathrooms. “I would recommend to the board that we develop a policy where we get locker room usage specific to biological anatomy. We would still work with transgender students and their parents to provide alternate options. We have alternate options and alternate locker rooms at the middle school, the high school and the pool building,” he said.