KEYSER, W.Va. — The Mineral County Board of Education heard from parents Tuesday evening who claim that transgender students’ use of school restrooms makes them concerned for the safety of their children.
While the topic was not on the official agenda, the board held its meeting at Keyser Middle School rather than in its administrative offices nearby to accommodate the anticipated crowd of people wishing to speak on the subject, or show support to those doing so. About 30 people showed up; most Board of Education meetings don’t draw such a crowd.
The subject of transgender students’ bathroom usage in county schools has been debated on social media for the last week following an assembly at Keyser High School. Superintendent Troy Ravenscroft clarified the school system’s policies on social media Monday, and reiterated the statement during Tuesday’s meeting.
“This past June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against policies which force transgender students to use separate restroom facilities,” Ravenscroft wrote. “In short: transgender students are allowed to use the restroom matching their gender identity.
“This restroom ruling does not mean that any student, on any given day, may use whichever restroom they would like to,” he continued. “The small number of students who choose to mock this rule, disrupt the school, and/or aim to provoke further issues will face discipline.”
During Tuesday’s meeting, Ravenscroft also said that the presence of transgender students in Mineral County Schools is “not new.”
“I’ve had many people ask me if students can just walk in and decide to be transgender today and go into the opposite restroom,” Ravenscroft said. “This has not been our experience with transgender students. The presence of transgender students in our schools is not new. They have been part of our school community for at least as long as I’ve been here.”
Most transgender students, Ravenscroft said, typically inform the school of the name they’d prefer to be called, which he said “prompts further discussion with the student,” including discussing with staff their preference for which bathroom they’d like to use. Many transgender students, noted Ravenscroft, choose to use single-stall bathrooms located in the schools.
While some in the audience wore the transgender pride colors of light blue, pink and white, those who spoke in open session during the meeting did so in opposition of allowing trans students to use the bathroom corresponding with their gender identity. One speaker, a Keyser High School student, requested and was granted a closed session with the board to discuss their concerns.
The first speaker was parent Nancy Butler, who said her “main concern was the way the issue was brought up” during a Sept. 29 assembly. Butler said she was told by students, including her daughter, that a vice principal said students can use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity.
Butler claimed to have a recording of the assembly, and said her daughter “sent me a statement that rape was going to go up in the high school due to this, because of males saying that they were going to be females and entering the female restroom.”
Students, including her children, “fear for their life to go to the restroom,” Butler said.
“What is being done to ensure no one of the opposite sex is entering the wrong bathroom? That is my main concern,” Butler said.
Parent Rebekah Buckholtz also said her primary concern was protecting her children, and questioned whether children of middle and high school age are not “just experimenting.”
“If you’re going to allow this in the restrooms in a school, safety is the biggest concern,” Buckholtz said, questioning if students can be watched closely with inadequate staffing in schools. Addressing such issues is “above their pay grade,” Buckholtz said.
“I do feel in a school setting you have so many kids who are wishy-washy today, who say ‘Maybe I want to be this gender today,’” Buckholtz claimed. A “buddy system” for students going to the bathroom would be a good solution in her opinion, Buckholtz said.
Parent Aaron Harris said he worried about the “safety of every kid, no matter what they believe in or identify as.” He also asked about disciplinary measures for violators of the bathroom policy, as well as if it extended to transgender students using locker rooms alongside students of their gender.
“I have a daughter who came home and swore she’s not going to the bathroom any more in high school,” Harris said. “She’s worried about it. She’s not getting a safe environment. ... Teachers can’t do everything, I understand that. I have a boy coming up. I don’t want him to get caught up in something stupid. Part of that would be my fault and his decisions, but I don’t want him to do it, or be there later in life, because that will 100% affect you the rest of your life.”
“Boy, girl, you’re in the shower and next thing you know there’s a boy or girl next to you,” Harris said. “How does that make you feel? How is a parent supposed to explain it, depending on their religious beliefs or how they were raised?”
The school board meets next on Oct. 19.