A group of male students’ desire to post a selfie from the girls restroom at North Pole High School on April 4 was an attempt to bully a transgender student, multiple testifiers told the school board Tuesday.
They called for the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District to do more to protect vulnerable students from harassment and added to a chorus of criticism over the school district’s handling of the incident.
Others asked the school district to review its permissive bathroom policies.
Superintendent Karen Gaborik asked for grace as disciplinary actions around the bathroom blowup are reviewed.
Appeals before a school district hearing officer are scheduled this week, the superintendent said.
Seven boys and one girl were punished in the wake of the incident in which the boys attempted to enter the girls bathroom and were met at the door by the girl who kicked a boy in the groin, according to school district officials.
The girl’s mother was reached Tuesday and declined to comment pending her daughter’s hearing in an appeal to her punishment, which the mother said was indefinite expulsion.
The boys were attempting to enter the girls bathroom in response to a picture posted on Snapchat, a mobile messaging app, showing a transgender boy in the boys bathroom. They wanted to post their own selfie from the girls bathroom.
Alex Thornton told the school board the boys were acting as vigilantes.
“This is very clearly bullying,” Thornton said and told a personal story of being bullied for being gender nonconforming.
The Rev. Leslie Ahuvah Fails, who ministers to transgender youths, said transgender students have high rates of suicide and wind up leaving school because of harassment from peers.
She asked the school district to do more to keep trandgender students safe.
“The bottom line is that no child should have to be afraid when they go to school,” she said.
Hayden Nevill, who was born female and is now male, also testified.
Nevill is the founder of Gender Pioneers, an activist and support group for transgender people.
He said the attempted social media post by the group of boys was not an act of protest as it has been characterized.
“Their intended Snapchat was an act of bullying,” Nevill said.
Transgender people have been using their chosen restrooms for years, Nevill said.
“The only thing anyone should care about is whether we wash our hands,” he said.
Two North Pole area parents disagreed with the characterization that the boys were bullying and asked for a review of restroom policies allowing a student to switch from one gender to the other.
Fred Sayer sympathized with the boys’ concern over the transgender boy using the boys restroom.
Sayer asked the school district to adopt more restrictive policies on who uses which restroom.
“This has nothing to do with being intolerant but rather keeping students safe,” Sayer said.
Gaborik acknowledged the difficult subject matter.
“These are hard conversations. These are hard topics,” she said.
“I think it’s important that we let these processes play out,” Gaborik said. “We want every student to feel welcome in our buildings.”
Contact staff writer Amanda Bohman at 459-7587. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMborough.