Feds investigate Michigan school district for transgender discrimination | Michigan Radio
WUOMFM

Feds investigate Michigan school district for transgender discrimination

Apr 7, 2016

Credit lee/flickr creative commons

  At Bedford Public Schools in Monroe County, transgender students are only allowed to use the gender-neutral bathrooms.

That's even if they've asked to use the bathrooms matching their gender identity.

"We have other students that have made requests, and we try to do the best we can to meet the needs of them – but also, the key is, you know, the health, safety and welfare of all of the students,” says Superintendent Mark Kleinhans.

“We want to be consistent, but again, we try to look out for the safety and health of all of the kids. Many districts are kind of grappling with this issue.”

"We have other students that have made requests...but the key is, you know, the health, safety and welfare of all of the students."

Kleinhans says they’ve been cooperating with the federal investigation since they got word of it last fall, but can’t talk about the specifics.

The Office of Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education is currently investigating whether Bedford is violating Title IX, which prohibits discrimination – including discrimination against transgender students.

“As of today, OCR is investigating one case at the elementary/secondary level in Michigan for possible discrimination against transgender students [at] Bedford Public Schools,” a Department of Education spokesperson says. “Because the investigation is ongoing, we can’t share any further detail.”

Students petition Bedford Schools to allow transender students choice 

Meanwhile, as MLive’s Brian McVicar reports, there’s already a Change.org petition asking the superintendent to let Bedford students use the bathrooms of their choice. 

By Friday morning, 499 people had signed it. 

"There are so many people that are rude to trans gender students at BHS (and probably other schools too) it is ridiculous," said one online comment on petition. "Just because you don't understand something doesn't mean you can dog on it. These students need just as much freedom as others do, and shouldn't be pointed out by making them use a bathroom that is different than anyone else's.

Mark Kleinhans is the Superintendent of Bedford Public Schools, which is under federal investigation.
Credit Bedford Public Schools

From another comment:   "I am transgender and want to be seen as the real man that I am but my school is not allowing me to use the proper restroom."

One transgender student we reached – whose name we're not using because they're a minor – says a Bedford school official told them they could only use gender-neutral restrooms because "they want every student to be comfortable."

That student says "it wouldn't be as big of an issue" if there were "more than basically two bathrooms to use."

"And it's at the very end of one of the main hallways, so I or another trans student could walk all the way down, and have them both be occupied and then walk all the way to the nurse’s office and then back to class [at] the other end of the school, when there are bathrooms on almost every corner/hallway of the school,” the student says.  

District asks for state guidance, but wants "compromise" on bathroom choice

“We’re trying to do the very best that we can for our students here at Bedford,” Kleinhans says. “These are difficult issues. These are emotional issues. And that’s why we try do to the best that we can.”

He says that job is made much trickier, because individual districts don’t get a lot of direction about how to navigate these issues.

“That’s really why I believe that we’re in the situation that we are, and that we have this investigation. We’re cooperating fully, but really, it’s direction on which way to go … some direction on this [from the state] would be helpful, yes,” Kleinhans says.  

As for the draft recommendations the Michigan Board of Education put out for public comment recently – which urge districts to let transgender students use the restrooms and locker rooms of their choice, and not just offer a gender-neutral restroom as the only option – Kleinhans says it’s a mixed bag.

“There are certainly parts of those recommendations that are spot on, and there are parts that, just personally, could be modified to meet the needs of all students,” he says.

“I think that there needs to be a compromise in there, I really do. And of course, I seek input from the stakeholders here in the community. It’s just, it’s very difficult being in the trenches dealing with these issues, and trying to do the best that you can to make sure that everybody’s safe. And that’s what makes that very, very difficult.”  

The state Board of Education extended the public comment period on those draft recommendations after several Republican lawmakers criticized the suggested guidance. One lawmaker says he's sponsoring legislation to block the draft guidance.