North Pole High ‘bathroom incident’ raises concerns over bullying, policy

A full house of parents and interested citizens testified to the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District Board Tuesday night. The community was concerned about an incident two weeks ago at North Pole High School involving boys coming into a girls’ bathroom. The boys were protesting a transgender student who posted a photo of himself in the boys’ bathroom.

The discussion at Tuesday night’s meeting was respectful and mostly concerned with bullying.

The community was activated after state lawmaker Tammy Wilson of North Pole partially described the incident during a press conference in Juneau. She criticized the school’s discipline policy.

“Some boys entered the girls’ bathroom. I don’t care why the boys were in the bathroom, I hear there was some kind of protest going on, but it doesn’t matter,” Wilson said. “And a girl kneed a boy, feeling threatened. They were blocking her way.”

Wilson said the girl had been suspended for using too much force. But federal privacy law prevents schools from revealing student information, including who was disciplined for what. Superintendent Karen Gaborik released a statement about the incident, and it was updated this week on the school district’s website.

That was not enough to satisfy commenters, who came to ask the district to protect students’ rights.

Hayden Neville testified the action of the boys trying to enter the girls’ bathroom was intentional harassment and bullying of the transgender student who used the boys’ bathroom.

“Forcing a transgender person to use the bathroom they are not comfortable with is inflicting emotional distress,” Neville said.

The School District’s non-discrimination policy is not new; it was passed in 1980. It was revised to include sexual expression in 2014 and hasn’t changed in the last five years. An Administration Regulation 130.2 about safety for students with different gender identity was adopted in 2011.

Brandi Howard says there is a lot of wrong information about the incident on social media.

“A lot of wrong information,” Howard said. “And a lot of adults that are making assumptions based on this wrong information and calling children despicable things.”

Reverend Leslie Ahuva Fails says there was an uptick in teens in her congregation approaching her this week.

“I’m here representing these kids, and also their parents and guardians,” Fails said. “No child should have to be afraid when they go to school. Bullying against Trans students contributes to the astronomical suicide rate among these precious children.”

Fred Sayers asked the district to re-assess the policy that allows students to use bathrooms of the gender they identify with. He said it creates a risky environment for all students, including transgender students.

“Putting students of the opposite sex is only asking for trouble. This incident last week resulted in a boy being kicked in the groin. This was a violent response to a boy in the girls’ bathroom,” Sayers said. “I cannot say I would have my daughter do anything different, but I ask you, did that girl know if that boy was transitioning, or had permission to use the girls’ bathroom?”

Superintendent Karen Gaborik reported that every school employee wants students to be safe.

“Our transgender students work with school administrators and counselors to make restroom choices; we approach that on a very individual basis,” Gaborik said. “And I appreciate the input that we need to continue to look at this.”

She thanked the audience for tenor of their comments with everyone listening to each other and reminded them that student discipline processes are confidential.

“I think it is important that every student has due process rights, and it’s really important that we protect the integrity of that process,” Gaborik said.

Gaborik explained there is an appeal option for students and families who don’t agree with discipline measures – a first step with a hearing officer, and a second step with the Board of Education. She wouldn’t say if any families involved in this incident are taking advantage of the appeal process but did say first steps have been scheduled this week.