Debate over transgender bathroom access hits close to home in Lewisburg, Selinsgrove school districts

Erin Hausmann, Senior Writer

The controversial nature of the debate over bathroom access for transgender people has generated national debate, escalating to a case waiting to be heard at the Supreme Court. The Obama administration’s May 2016 directive to American public schools to allow students to use bathrooms matching their gender identity has also led to conversation and outcry over privacy on the local level. If schools did not comply, they would face the threat of losing federal funding.

In the nearby Selinsgrove, Pa. school district, former President Barack Obama’s directive was received with mixed reactions by parents and residents. In the wake of the election of President Donald Trump last fall, debate was stirred once more when Selinsgrove Area School District Superintendent Chad Cohrs and Board President Larry Augustine reaffirmed that “the school district is currently following the regulation that came out of Title IX and its new interpretation about transgender students using the restroom they identify with.”

The May 2016 directive affirms that public schools that fail to comply with Title IX rules permitting transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice are at risk of losing federal funding. Title IX is the 1972 law banning sex discrimination by schools that receive federal funding.

“We want them to preserve and protect the right of every student to have privacy in enclosed spaces with other students, so, locker rooms, bathrooms, things of that nature. Any time a student is in a state of undress, we believe that a student has the right to privacy,” Selinsgrove parent Jody Muncer said to Newsradio 1070 WKOK.

There is one private single bathroom near the nurse’s office in the Selinsgrove High School. Prior to calling upon students to boycott the gender-neutral facilities, Muncer started a petition asking the school to change its policy to the one it held before Obama’s directive. The petition was signed by hundreds of people, but the school did not change its policy.

As recently as November, more than 100 parents gathered at Selinsgrove Area Middle School to discuss whether transgender students should have access to the boys’ or girls’ bathrooms at district area schools. Audience attendees included both those who were in support of and opposition to the policy allowing students to use the bathroom aligned with their gender identity.

Feedback from audience members was quoted by the Orange Street News.

“This practice that Selinsgrove has now implemented is used by hundreds and hundreds of schools, without incident and without difficulty,” a father of one of the three transgender students in the Selinsgrove school system said in support of the new policy.

“It seems like the change has been you are putting the comfort of a few over the comfort of a larger number of kids,” a former Selinsgrove elementary school employee said, arguing against the policy.

In January, Cohrs sent out a letter to parents who signed the petition against transgender bathroom usage, listing the single occupancy bathrooms in the district available for students to use who were uncomfortable with the new Title IX guidelines.

The new Lewisburg Area High School already had plans for the construction of three gender-neutral bathrooms prior the Obama administration’s directive last May.

“The district was being proactive when the architects designed the new building with three gender-neutral bathrooms,” former Superintendent of the Lewisburg Area School District Mark Dirocco said, according to WNEP ABC 16.

Similar to the varying reactions of community members in Selinsgrove, Lewisburg residents expressed differing opinions to the inclusion of gender-neutral bathrooms in the construction of the new school.

WNEP ABC 16 reported the opinions of a few Lewisburg residents.

“If they’re single-stall bathrooms and if it’s an individual bathroom for that special person, then that’s okay. But I don’t want a guy in the bathroom with my grandchildren,” Pamela Wetzel of Lewisburg said.

“I feel everyone should have their fair share. Whatever their gender is, they should have their fair share,” Carol Levan of Lewisburg said.

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