Parents bring same-sex restroom questions to board of education

Liz Beavers
Mineral Daily News-Tribune
no caption

KEYSER - Three concerned parents brought a lot of questions to the Mineral County Board of Education Tuesday evening in regard to the controversy over same-sex restroom usage at Keyser High School.

The board members listened, but because the issue was not on the agenda, they made no comments. Superintendent Troy Ravenscroft did remind the crowd, however, that based on a U.S. Supreme Court ruling earlier this year, transgender students “are allowed to use the restroom matching their gender identity.”

The controversy started with an assembly at the school last week, according to Nancy Butler, who was the first to speak to the board.

“The vice principal stated that if you identify yourself as a girl, you can use the girls’ bathroom, if you identify yourself as a male, you can use the male restroom,” she said.

“My daughter sent me a statement that rape was going to go up in the high school due to this, because of males saying they’re females and entering the female restroom. Kids now fear for their life to go to use the restroom,” she said.

Butler also said the topic came up during an assembly for ninth and tenth graders, but the next day when 11th and 12th graders wanted to talk about it with their advisors, “they were not allowed to disclose any information.

“To me, that just made matters worse,” she said.

Butler told the board her son later asked the vice principal how they would ensure that students would not be entering the wrong bathrooms, and “they couldn’t give an answer.”

She asked why the administration couldn’t use the security cameras that are “all over the school” to track down anyone abusing the restroom privileges.

“She also could not give him any kind of answer as to what the punishment would be,” she said. “I think the students have a right to know.

“I have kids that I’ve known since they were 5 or 6 years old that are telling me they refuse to go to the bathroom; they are holding it all day long,” she said.

Butler said she recommends the school implement the “buddy system” for students going to the restroom.

“I was told by the principal that she walks the school twice within an hour and a half. That’s not enough. By the time she hits that first bathroom and takes that walk around that mile-long high school, something’s already done happened,” she said.

Butler said she was told Friday of an incident where a male entered the female bathroom, but the male was not identified.

“Where’s your cameras?” she asked.

Parent Rebecca Whetzel told the board her priority is to protect the safety of her child. Acknowledging that her child is currently in middle school, where the bathroom question is not much of a dilemma, Whetzel said her child nevertheless was concerned about the situation.

“When she comes home from the bus ride, and is talking about bathrooms and boys coming into the girls’ and girls coming into the boys’, that’s where I draw the line,” she said.

Whetzel said all the children need to be protected, regardless of what they believe.

“I not only want to protect my child, I want to protect that other child too,” she said.

In regard to students who say they identify as the other sex, Whetzel questioned the validity.

“We are allowing minors to make the decision of what they identify as … middle school and high school ages are still experimenting … they’re not sure,” she said.

“So how do we know if it’s legit? (We’re told) the parent gets to decide that. The parent? Where do we draw the line?” she asked.

Whetzel said safety is her main concern, but the schools currently do not have sufficient staff to continuously check the restrooms.

“You all don’t have the staff to monitor the bathrooms 24/7, every single day of every single school in the county, ” she said.  “You’ve said we have teachers who are working through their planning and working through their lunch … we don’t have the option to watch (the bathrooms) closely.”

She also supported the buddy system for students going to the restroom.

“It’s a great idea. Even if it is somebody who wants to identify as transgender. Send them with a buddy … all of them. That way nobody will be singled out; everybody will be looked at fairly in the system.”

Parent Aaron Harris asked if the restroom policy also applies to locker rooms and asked the board what they were going to do to ensure the “safety of every kid, no matter what they believe in or identify as.”

He also noted that the current policy could lead to ruining a student’s reputation for life.

“Let’s talk about a senior, who’s 18, walks into a bathroom of opposite gender, gets called up on something. You’re looking at child pornography. It ruins his life. Or her life,” he said.

He asked about possible resultant lawsuits.

“If it would happen to my kid, God forbid, I know I’m going to push it as hard as I can as far as I can.”

He said he too has a child who is worried about the current situation.

“She came home and swore she’s not going to the bathroom any more in high school. She’s worried about this; she’s not learning.”

Harris also asked what disciplinary action would be taken if a student violates the policy.

A fourth speaker, Olivia Nightengale, chose to speak with the board in executive session because she said specific names would be mentioned.

Board president Lara Courrier had cautioned the crowd earlier that they could not mention specific names of students or employees in public due to privacy reasons.

In addition, a number of people clearly in support of LGBTQ rights - some clad in rainbow-colored attire and carrying signs - were also in attendance at the meeting but chose not to speak.

Liz Beavers is a veteran writer and managing editor of the Mineral Daily News Tribune. To reach out to her with a story idea, email lbeavers@newstribune.info.