Superintendent Rob Hess told the Lebanon School Board on May 26 that Lebanon school policies already comply with guidelines protecting sexual orientation and shouldn't need to be updated for transgender issues.
Hess spoke for the benefit of both board members and parents who are concerned about new transgender guidelines issued by the Oregon Department of Education on how to handle everything from requests for name changes to accommodations for bathrooms
Seven people also spoke at the board meeting, urging the board to hold firm on separate facilities for boys and girls.
Hess said each school in the district already provides a single-person, unisex restroom for anyone who wants to use it. If a complaint is received about transgender accommodation and more action is deemed necessary, the district will take up the matter at that time.
"We're not passing any new policy," he said.
ODE stressed its school guidelines are not meant to be legal advice and do not come with threats of any sanctions if they aren't followed.
The state said it sees transgender issues as falling under the protections of Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in federally-funded programs and activities. The Obama administration also follows this interpretation and has issued guidance stating schools that do not comply may risk losing federal aid.
Generally, ODE said schools can satisfy Title IX requirements by simply following the wishes of students asking for accommodation, whether that request is to be called by a new name, use a separate changing facility or be enrolled as a gender other than the one on their birth certificates.
But the state requires no proof of intent to accompany the request, which most Lebanon board members said they found too vague to support.
Without any scientific backing or other proof of making a full-on physical switch, in theory it would be possible for a Lebanon student to decide to be a boy in the morning, a girl for P.E. class and a boy again for the bus ride home, board member Mike Martin said. "I'm against this completely."
Russ McUne agreed. "All you have to say is, 'I identify as a woman today,' and I can go into the women's bathroom. I could identify as a woman right now and go use the women's bathroom — and play on the softball team."
Jerry Williams shared a six-page letter to Gov. Kate Brown from the American College of Pediatricians, a national organization of some 20,000 physicians and health professionals, stating gender identity is not the same as the genetic chromosome markers protected by Title IX. The letter stated the physicians believe it's dangerous to affirm gender dysphoria — which they categorize as a mental condition — as anything other than a disorder.
Liz Alperin said she understands concerns for the safety and well-being of all students, including those who don't want to share facilities with someone who is biologically of the opposite sex, and that she wants her own daughters protected, too.
But that said, she went on, districts may just need time to get used to the idea. It wasn't long ago that parents were insisting gay students be kept out of classrooms for fear they'd "convert" others, and that's a fear no longer much expressed.
And, she noted, gender identity is not the same as homosexuality. A biological boy who identifies as a girl is not going to choose to use a women's bathroom to peek at other girls.
Documented cases exist that young people have resorted to suicide rather than present themselves as a gender other than the one they believe they ought to be, Alperin said. "Somewhere in there, if a child identifies with another gender, I think we need to protect them. Who are we to say, 'Let's check the biology'?"
Seven people who testified at the meeting, and an eighth who wrote a letter, told board members they want no part of either the state or the president's guidance on the matter. They urged the board to reject any calls for transgender accommodations, at least when it comes to bathrooms and locker rooms.
The school district also has received a handful of phone calls along the same lines, said Kathy Schurr, the district's executive secretary and one of those to testify at the meeting.
"This law that allows anyone to access the bathrooms and locker rooms of any gender, according to how they feel at any given moment, puts all students at risk," Schurr told the board. "I am advocating for the rights of straight students who know what their sexual orientation is and who do not want to share bathrooms and P.E. facilities with people of the opposite sex."
Two of the parents testifying are also pastors of local churches. Both read statements saying they weren't comfortable with any changes to accommodate transgender issues.
"One necessary and precious distinction built into our very DNA is that between male and female," said Jeremy Zderad, pastor of Crowfoot Church. "To deny or confuse this basic, human distinction — as this guidance does — is not only to deny what we believe to be self-evident, it is not only to condemn the practice of virtually every human culture of every age — it is to sacrifice children's inherent, God-given dignity and wholeness on the altar of a misguided social experiment which will reap disastrous, unintended consequences."
Patrick Bowler, pastor of Valley Life Church, read a similar statement but said after the meeting he was glad to see "the general sense of caution" from the district.
"Very encouraging response from the school board," he said.