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Stillwater School Board asks Oklahoma to make bathroom rules for transgender students

Dozens of people attend a Stillwater school board meeting on April 12, 2022.
Anna Pope / KOSU
Dozens of people attend a Stillwater school board meeting on April 12, 2022.

Stillwater Public Schools is asking the state to intervene in a controversy surrounding transgender students using the restroom.

After a lengthy executive session, Stillwater’s School Board voted unanimously to ask the State Department and Board of Education to promulgate rules about which bathrooms a transgender student can use in the district.

The resolution “encourages the Oklahoma Department of Education and the Oklahoma State Board of Education to promulgate an emergency rule that provides clear directives to all Oklahoma public school districts concerning the use of student restrooms and guidance on how to implement such directives,” board member Tim Riley said as he read off the resolution shortly before it passed Tuesday.

In Stillwater, transgender students are allowed to use whichever restroom best suits them. That policy has been in place since 2015 and the district hadn’t had an issue with it before this spring.

Interim superintendent Gay Washington had written to Stillwater parents and students earlier this month that who used which bathroom had been a non-issue in the district.

"Central to some individuals' expressed concerns is a fear that allowing transgender individuals to use the restroom of their gender identity poses a danger to other students," Washington wrote in an open letter to the district. "Transgender individuals have been using the restroom of their gender identity in (Stillwater Public Schools) for many years, and the district has received zero reports of any transgender individuals behaving inappropriately toward anyone else in a restroom.

"The notion that transgender individuals are more prone to inappropriate behavior is categorically false."

But booting transgender students from the bathroom coinciding with their gender has become an important touchstone for a couple of state leaders currently running in Republican primaries. It’s even gotten a write-up by Fox News' digital desk.

The district has been lambasted by Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor and Secretary of Education Ryan Walters for allowing students to use the bathrooms coinciding with their gender identity.

O’Connor was appointed by Gov. Kevin Stitt, and is hoping to retain his seat following a primary battle with attorney Gentner Drummond.

Earlier this month, O’Connor wrote in a letter to the district that legal precedent doesn’t require schools to allow transgender students to access the restrooms coinciding with their gender identity.

Walters is vying for the State Superintendent of Public Instruction role against three GOP opponents: Shawnee Public Schools Superintendent April Grace, Peggs Public Schools Superintendent John Cox and William “Bill” Crozier.

Walters has posted a number of selfie videos in his car criticizing the district. Before the board voted to ask for the guidance Tuesday, he posted another.

“It’s really very simple. It’s really not complicated. Males should be using the males’ bathroom and females should be using the female bathroom,” Walters said. “I’m hearing they want more clarity. I don’t know what more clarity I could give them. I could draw them a picture.”

Robby Korth joined KOSU as its news director in November 2022.
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