Community members question transgender student policies

by Laura Bednar

April 18 board of education meeting

Several community members asked questions about how the school district addresses transgender students, specifically restroom use at Independence High School.

Parent of IHS alumni, Michelle McGreevy, referenced a situation in which a transgender female was using the girls’ bathroom and asked if that created safety issues.

Superintendent Ben Hegedish said according to federal law it is discriminatory to prevent a student from using the restroom with which they identify. “We work really hard to help everybody feel like they’re part of our school system,” he said.

Community member and city employee Jim Riley asked if the school refused federal funding, could the district ignore federal school mandates. “I think the community should control the school, not the federal government,” Riley said. Treasurer Eric Koehler said he would get back to him with an answer.

IHS Principal Jamie Hogue explained the situation McGreevy referenced, saying there is a transgender student who does not feel comfortable using the male restroom or a private restroom and prefers to use the female restroom, which is the gender with which the student identifies.

Private restrooms in the high school are available for transgender students who are uncomfortable using public restrooms that correlate to their biological gender, according to Hogue. They are also available for students who need a private bathroom, such as those with medical diagnoses.

There are three female public restrooms in the high school, and Hogue said the transgender student was asked to use one of them. The female students were notified that if they were uncomfortable using the restroom with a transgender student, they should use one of the other two public restrooms.

McGreevy suggested building a restroom exclusively for transgender students to ensure everyone feels safe. She also expressed concern about biological males using female locker rooms and playing on female sports teams if they identify as transgender.

“You can’t let the rights of one student override the rights of the other,” she said. “That’s what I see happening here. Parents are afraid to come here and speak out on behalf of their students because their kids might get called bigots for standing on their own principles.”

Community member Mike Zubic also expressed concern about a of lack of public participation, saying he knows two 17-year-old students who are “not empowered to say something. They are actually afraid.”

Said Hegedish, “I don’t like hearing that people are uncomfortable coming and talking. We [as a board] need to hear that. … That hurts to hear.”

Hegedish said the district must follow Ohio High School Athletic Association standards with transgender athletes. Concerning locker rooms, he said, “There’s a little more say in terms of private facilities and areas; we haven’t had to cross that bridge yet.”

Community member Frank Remesch asked if there was a process for students who want to identify as transgender. Hegedish said the school doesn’t have a checklist or examination. “We aren’t encouraging, we aren’t recruiting, we are supporting and meeting them where they are,” he said.

Hogue said in the past the school has been notified about a student’s transgender identity from a school counselor, with student consent, or the student’s parents.

High school student numbers

During public forum, Zubic said that too many Independence Middle School eighth graders were not attending IHS. Mike Pennington, director of curriculum and technology integration, said the current eighth-grade class has between 72 and 76 students. Thus far, 18 will not attend the high school due to a variety of reasons, which include IHS not offering the sport they play, having siblings at other schools and choosing a private school.

The district offers families an anonymous exit survey to learn why students leave. Hegedish said traditionally, 5-10% of students attend parochial schools when they leave the district.

Commended Scholars

Hogue recognized seniors Kyle McGovern and Drew Straub for being named Commended Scholars through the National Merit Scholarship program. Both students earned scores in the top 50,000 out of 1.3 million students that took the PSAT in fall 2021. There were 1,000 commended scholars in Ohio. ∞