Group urging TUSD to act on transgender issue with restrooms

2014-05-03T00:00:00Z 2014-06-18T16:04:04Z Group urging TUSD to act on transgender issue with restroomsBy Alexis Huicochea Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

A conservative religious-freedom group is urging the Tucson Unified School District to prevent transgender children from using the restroom they identify with, saying such a practice could “severely impair an environment conducive to learning.”

Alliance Defending Freedom, a nonprofit legal organization that advocates for the rights of people to freely practice their religion, sent a letter to TUSD on Thursday urging that a change be made in order to protect Tucson children — a recommendation that TUSD Superintendent H.T. Sanchez and members of the school board are disregarding.

“Protecting young children from inappropriate exposure to the opposite sex is not only perfectly legal; it’s a school district’s duty,” said ADF legal counsel Jonathan Scruggs. “Letting boys go into girls’ bathrooms is an invasion of privacy and a threat to children’s safety. The school district is actually subjecting itself to potential liability if any of these children encounter any harm.”

The alliance went as far as to draft a new policy for TUSD that calls for transgender students to use single-stall bathrooms, unisex bathrooms or faculty bathrooms. “In no event shall that be access to the school restroom, locker room, or shower of the opposite biological sex,” the draft policy reads. It also offered to defend TUSD free of charge had the district adopted the new policy and someone challenged it.

TUSD amended its nondiscrimination policy in March, adding “gender identity or expression” to a list that prohibits discrimination based on disability, race, color, religious beliefs, sex, sexual orientation, age or national origin. While the policy does not directly address bathroom use by transgender children, the discussion that led to the change stemmed from an incident at Henry Elementary School, 650 N. Igo Way, in which parents raised concerns about a transgender student using the boys’ restroom.

The situation, according to the alliance, has already placed children in “unsafe situations where they are being exposed to genitalia of the opposite sex.”

“What we did was pass a much-needed change to our nondiscrimination policy, and I will not repeal that,” said TUSD Governing Board President Adelita Grijalva — a statement echoed by board member Kristel Foster. “We are here to support our students and their families, and we want school to be safe for every child.”

Sanchez said the policy revision is in line with case law that has gone all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and in line with other districts of TUSD’s size that have dealt with such circumstances.

“In the situation that a transgender student needs to use the facilities, that’s something that in working with the family, student, campus and principal is laid out with a lot of thought and consideration to ensure that other students don’t feel their privacy is being violated. It doesn’t mean that on occasion things won’t go perfectly as planned, but there is a lot of work that goes into that.”

Sanchez said he is not aware of any incidents that have arisen as a result of the change, and the district stands by its nondiscrimination policy.

“I’m not going to go back and remove a nondiscrimination clause from board policy, because that indicates that I’m in favor of discriminating against a group, and I’m not,” Sanchez said. “Any person who would favor discriminating against any group for any particular reason within the 21st century, I can’t see eye to eye with them.”

Contact reporter Alexis Huicochea at ahuicochea@azstarnet.com or 573-4175. On Twitter @AlexisHuicochea

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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