The school district has been navigating issues around transgender students for years, from elementary school on up, and there hasn’t been any big problems around bathrooms until now, said Karen Gaborik, superintendent of the Fairbanks North Star Borough school district.
In an interview Saturday, she confirmed that no trans student was directly involved in an incident two weeks ago, during which a boy was kneed in the groin by a girl as a group of boys attempted to enter the girls bathroom at North Pole High School.
Eight students, including the girl who kneed the boy, were disciplined after an investigation.
A post on social media sparked the chain of events.
The school district’s investigation revealed that a student transitioning from female to male posted a selfie from the boy’s bathroom on Snapchat, Gaborik said.
A group of boys saw the selfie and didn’t like it.
“They were upset about the public nature of the post and how that played out,” Gaborik said.
Seven boys decided to go into the girls restroom and take a group selfie of their own to post on Snapchat, a social media app.
As the boys were entering the girls bathroom, a girl who was walking out the door kneed a boy in the groin, the superintendent said.
The boy was referred for medical treatment. Gaborik could not confirm whether he sought it.
“It wasn’t like a 911 call. It was a health aide saying, ‘Hey, you should really go see a doctor,’” she said.
Some students involved with the incident have appealed their punishments, Gaborik said.
Some people, including North Pole’s representative in the Alaska Legislature, have criticized the decision to discipline the girl, who they say was protecting herself.
Gaborik defended the school district’s handling of the incident. She protected the identity of the North Pole students involved per district policy. Gaborik also declined to discuss details about their punishments.
School staff cannot tolerate violence to resolve conflict, officials said.
“We don’t advocate violence as a means for students to attain safety,” Gaborik said. “If a student does use force, we have to evaluate that incident.”
Students and staff sometimes have questions about transgender students and restrooms, but Gaborik said she couldn’t recall another time when a blowup occurred over who was using which restroom, she said.
Gaborik and Heather Rauenhorst, executive director of communications, development and engagement, said students are generally accepting of their transgender peers; it’s the adults who are sometimes uncomfortable.
Transgender students have attended North Pole High School in the past, and Gaborik was taken by surprised that problems have come up now.
Schools work with transgender students and their families to identify appropriate restroom accommodations, the superintendent said.
Private restrooms are available to students by request.
“What is really important is that each situation is addressed individually,” Gaborik said.
North Pole Rep. Tammie Wilson made impromptu comments during an unrelated news conference Friday, saying the girl should not have been punished and that the school district is sending the wrong message to girls.
Wilson said she plans to discuss the issue with members of the Board of Education.
The state 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.
Contact staff writer Amanda Bohman at 459-7587. Follow her on Twitter:@FDNMborough.