It is a story that started when one dad asked his three sons who attend Southwest Elementary School in Howell a routine question: How was school today?
“My son informed me there was a girl in the bathroom with him and the other kids in his class,” said Matt Stewart.
He called the school. He asked why he wasn’t given notice of the school's policy for transgender students and their use of facilities, why parents didn’t have a say on school policy, and what the options were to protect the privacy of his son.
Stewart didn’t like the answers. He and his wife then decided to pull their three sons out of school.
“As parents, we decided we were not going to force our children to make the decision between confusion, humiliation, and embarrassment,” said Stewart.
A school spokesperson gave 7 Action News a letter sent home to parents. It reads:
"As has been widely reported, on May 13, 2016, the United States Department of Justice and Department of Education issued significant guidance on the rights of transgender students. This involved the Department’s interpretation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which is a statute prohibiting sex discrimination in educational programs or activities. Those Departments found that Title IX prohibits discrimination against students based on their transgender status.
With respect to restrooms, the government stated that transgender students must be allowed to access those facilities “consistent with their gender identity.” Any student who desires additional privacy in light of this directive may, however, make use of individual-user restrooms.
This is a new and rapidly developing area of law. Howell Public Schools intends to comply with its legal obligations in this, as well as all other, respects. Measures will, therefore, be implemented consistent with this guidance in a way which ensures the safety, privacy, and dignity of all involved.”
“How would you want the school to treat your child if your child was transgender?” asked Dr. Carnigee Truesdale-Howard, Pediatric Psychologist at Beaumont Children’s Hospital.
She has treated transgender kids. She says there is a misconception that being transgender is a choice. She says she is concerned this incident will cause the transgender student at the school anxiety. She says parents should take time to learn more so they can help their children get along with all classmates as these federal guidelines are implemented.
"Put aside their fears and anxieties, and maybe educate themselves about what transgender is -and go from there," suggested Dr. Truesdale-Howard.
Ironically perhaps, this federal policy came out in May, a month after parents of a transgender student in another state won a lawsuit. The suit claimed the Gloucester County School Board violated Title IX, a law banning sex discrimination in schools, when it banned 16-year-old Gavin Grimm from using boys' restrooms, and forced him to use a unisex bathroom.
Now, this Howell dad claims that is the option being suggested for his son.
“My child is now facing the humiliation of choosing to either risk exposing himself to a student of the opposite sex or going to a separate facility. I think there needs to be a solution where every child is comfortable,” said Stewart.
When asked what policies could be implemented that would accomplish that, he had no suggestions. None the less, until it happens, this dad says his three sons won’t be in public schools.
In the meantime, 11 states are challenging the U.S. Department of Education guidelines that allow transgender students to use facilities that match their gender identity with lawsuits.