Howell schools backs off of transgender policy

Posted at 6:37 PM, Jun 02, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-02 18:37:51-04

We have an update to a story out of Howell that got national attention. The father who pulled his kids out of Howell schools after learning they shared a restroom with a transgender student says the school has given him reason to send them back to class.

7 Action News first told you the story of Matt Stewart one week ago. He spoke out after he says one of his four kids came home from Southwest Elementary in Howell on May 20 upset and confused.

“My son informed me there was a girl in the bathroom with him and the other kids in his class,” said Stewart.

He called the school. The principal told him that the U.S Department of Education sent notice to schools on May 13th. Civil rights laws give transgender students the right to use facilities that match their gender identity.

The dad told school leaders parents should have been told about the new policy and pulled his kids out of school.

"Over the last few days they have actually changed their positions,” said Stewart.

Those changes encouraged Stewart to send his kids back to school yesterday.

7 Action News reached out to Howell Schools for details on what changed. 

"At Howell Public Schools we work tirelessly to create an inclusive environment where all students feel welcome, safe and secure. At this time, we do not currently have any students using a restroom other than that designated for their biological gender, or requesting to do so,” said part of a statement released by Erin McGregor, the Superintendent of Howell Public Schools.

7 Action News asked if the transgender student had left the district or decided not to use the bathroom that matched the child’s gender identity. The district declined to answer that question out of respect for the child’s privacy.

"In light of this, we are pausing on the federal guidance issued to all school districts across the nation in a joint letter on transgender students issued by the Department of Justice and Department of Education on May 13, 2016, while we work to provide opportunities in the coming weeks to gather feedback on this matter,” continued the statement.

Sources at the school district say the school board plans to meet with attorneys on Monday to discuss options. The school board has a meeting scheduled for June 13.  The school board expects many parents to voice their opinions on what the policy should be.

“This is a topic that is getting a lot of attention now, and can bring about some anxieties, some concerns,” said Dr. Carnigee Truesdale-Howard, a 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 hopes that as the conversation moves forward people treat transgender kids and their feelings with respect.

“How would you want the schools to treat your child if they were transgender?” she asked.

Stewart admits, he doesn’t know what the solution is. He says he hopes he started a dialog that helps the Howell Community find a one that leaves all kids feeling safe and comfortable.

“What I want people to know is we never sought to deprive anyone of their privacy,” said Stewart. “We just wanted to protect the privacy of our children.”