A girl enrolled at North Pole High School was reportedly suspended for using excessive force on a boy last week after a group of boys entered the girl’s bathroom and blocked the door, according to Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole.
The boys had apparently gone into the girl’s bathroom to protest the use of the boy’s bathroom by a student who is transitioning from female to male, the state representative said. That student was not directly involved in the incident.
Wilson described the incident Friday morning from the state capital at the end of a news conference on a separate matter. The News-Miner interviewed her about the North Pole incident later by telephone.
Wilson, who has been in touch with the girl’s family, said that after the girl was blocked from leaving the bathroom, she kneed a boy, who was sent to the hospital for his injury.
“I said, ‘Good for her,’” Wilson said. “I would have taught my daughter to do the same.”
Wilson doesn’t agree with how the school district handled the situation because the girl was protecting herself, she said.
The lawmaker had a message for girls who find themselves in a similar situation:
“If you ever feel threatened for your safety, whatever force you think you have to give, I will stand behind you,” she said at the news conference.
Wilson spoke with Fairbanks schools Superintendent Karen Gaborik about the incident Friday morning. She also plans to take it up with the school board.
Wilson said she learned about the incident from a constituent and saw some posts about it on social media.
“Was she supposed to not protect herself?” she said. “She was where she belonged. They were not.”
The girl’s punishment sends the wrong message to other girls that they could be punished for protecting themselves, Wilson said.
A school district spokeswoman said seven boys were disciplined in connection with the incident.
The students have not been named in keeping with Fairbanks North Star Borough School District policy regarding student discipline.
“Disciplinary actions are based on the facts as determined by the investigation, including any aggravating or mitigating circumstances,” a media statement released by the school district Friday afternoon stated.
Another girl was also reportedly in the bathroom at the time of the incident and was unaware that the boys had entered the bathroom, according to Wilson.
The school district reiterated its policy discouraging the use of force.
“Students or staff who use force against another person on school grounds could be subject to disciplinary action, depending on the facts and circumstances of the incident,” according to the media statement.
Students and staff concerned for their safety are encouraged to contact a building administrator, a safety assistant or call 911.
The school district also pointed out that students have a right of appeal of certain disciplinary matters.
Heather Rauenhorst, executive director of communications, development and engagement for the school district, said in an emailed answer to questions from the News-Miner that the district has a policy of nondiscrimination with respect to gender identity and sexual orientation.
The district is committed to ensuring every student has equal access to education, Rauenhorst wrote.
“School administrators are obligated to provide access to students to restroom facilities that correspond to the gender identity that the students ‘consistently assert’ at school,” Rauenhorst wrote.
“If a student or school administrator believes that it is necessary to provide increased privacy or safety to a student, the school administrator may provide the student access to an alternative restroom such as a single-sex unisex stall or the health office restroom.
“Students are not required to utilize a gender neutral or unisex restroom facility, even if such a facility is made available to the student,” Rauenhorst wrote.
Building administrators decide which restroom facility is appropriate for students, she said.
“Students are not permitted to determine which restroom facility is appropriate for other students,” she wrote in the email.
Students attempting to use an inappropriate bathroom may be subject to discipline, according to Rauenhorst.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to remove Wilson's reference to attendance at the school's prom. Recent information obtained by the News-Miner casts doubt on Wilson's information.
Contact staff writer Amanda Bohman at 459-7587. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMborough.