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Kansas school district bans trans students from preferred sports teams and restrooms

A photo of the district office for USD 231, the Gardner Edgerton School District. A Black SUV is parked in front of the brick building, and the flagpole features and American and Kansas flag.
Tim Carpenter
Kansas Reflector
The Gardner Edgerton school board voted to adopt a policy banning transgender students from preferred restrooms and sports teams Monday.

Despite opposition from students and the ACLU, the Gardner Edgerton school board approved a policy that bans transgender students from using their preferred restroom or playing on sports teams that align with their gender identity. "You don't care about teen suicide," one student said.

Gardner Edgerton school board members voted 5-2 Monday evening to ban transgender students from using their preferred restroom or playing on sports teams that align with their gender identity, following a months-long debate. Board members Katie Williams and Greg Chapman voted against adopting the policy.

The plan, first introduced in July, originally would have required students and staff to use names, pronouns, and restrooms that align with the sex listed on their original birth certificates.

But in September, after sharp criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas claiming the plan would violate federal laws, the board revised the policy. Under the policy approved Monday, students must use the restroom or locker room that corresponds with their “gender assigned at birth,” but staff is advised to address students by their preferred pronouns.

Several students attended the meeting to speak out against the policy. Gardner Edgerton high school senior Elizabeth Fiedler urged board members to vote no.

“Listen to the students that have come and spoken here. There is yet to be a single student come and tell you that this policy is needed and that it protects them, only ones that have showed up and said ‘You will harm the students,’” said Fiedler. “These are kids trying to be themselves, not predators…I am cis, and I am here telling you that there are people being creepy in our bathrooms – it is not the trans students.”

Larissa Briscoe, a junior at Gardner Edgerton High School, also addressed the board in opposition to the transgender policy. Briscoe said the policy will threaten LGBTQ+ students’ mental health. Transgender students already face higher rates of suicide.

“What you guys are doing is doing more harm than good. Stop trying to make kids fit the status quo,” said Briscoe. “You school board members have shown me that you don’t care about teen suicide.”

Board President Tom Reddin voted in favor of the policy.

“My vote is that we’re covering all our bases first. I want to have a safe environment for everybody. I want to take care of everybody,” said Reddin. “But I’m getting a lot of emails and stuff that this isn’t just the transgender community, we’ve also got special needs children we want to make sure we’re covering.”

The ACLU of Kansas said in a statement that the policy violates Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution.

“Such policies are proven to negatively impact the mental health and physical well-being of LGBTQ+ students in the district,” the organization said. “The ACLU of Kansas has heard from multiple families in the USD 231 district with trans students who have already been harmed by this policy and the community debates surrounding it. All students deserve to feel safe and supported at school, and we are evaluating the situation in USD 231 and considering all appropriate options.”

D.C. Hiegert, the ACLU of Kansas' LGBTQ+ legal fellow, also spoke out against the policy at Monday’s board meeting.

In a 5-2 vote, Board members also struck down $80,000 in funds to add unisex and Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant restrooms to Gardner Edgerton schools. Chapman and Williams voted to approve the funds. The district already has several unisex and ADA-compliant bathrooms, and is planning to add more by changing signage even without added funding.

Reddin, who also voted against the restroom funds, said the board will revisit the issue at their meeting next month.

“I left it because it seems like there’s still more discussion that needs to be made on it,” he said.

Bek Shackelford-Nwanganga reports on health disparities in access and health outcomes in both rural and urban areas.
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