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CDA school board looks at new policy as transgender 'bathroom bill' heads to House

The bill is expected to move through Idaho's House quickly, according to the school board's vice chair.

COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho — Schools across Idaho are awaiting a decision at the state capitol to know how to move forward on transgender bathroom policies.

That includes Coeur d'Alene, where just this week the issue at the heart of the bill and the district's lack of a defined policy led to a heated board meeting.

Senate Bill 1100, or the 'bathroom bill,' requires all Idaho school districts to separate bathrooms, locker rooms, and any other shared changing facilities by 'biological sex.'

The bill passed out of the House Education Committee Wednesday and is on its way to the full House.

The idea, or at least parts of it, have been hotly debated at the capitol.

Rep. Ted Hill, R-Eagle, says the legislation is about privacy and safety.

"The rights here for young girls to be safe and secure when they go to school in this most vulnerable position," Rep. Hill said, later including the safety of boys and transgender students.

The bill does allow for civil action if schools knowingly violate the law by allowing a student to use a restroom or facility that doesn't align with their biological sex; a student who "encounters a person of the opposite sex" in that space can sue for $5,000.

Rep. Steve Berch, D-Boise, took issue with that portion.

"Extremely concerned about this trend of legislation by intimidation," he said.

The debate reached North Idaho long before this bill even came up, as some parents said Monday night they've been trying for some time to get the district to take stricter action on bathroom policies.

One parent described it as a "free-for-all" where students can use whichever restroom they like.

"I think there's been a reluctance to develop a policy because it's a hot button topic," said Casey Morrisroe, school board vice chair. "But, I think the time has come that we must have a policy. So, I think, regardless of what happens with Senate Bill 1100, it would be in our best interest to develop a policy."

As first reported by our partners at the Coeur d'Alene Press, Julie Klennert, a Coeur d'Alene senior, says she saw "a male in the women's bathroom", which made her "so shocked". 

"This male did not look anything like a woman. In fact, this man was dressed exactly like a male. He was dressed like a skater," she said. "As I was staring at him while he passed me, a smirk sat upon his face, like he knew he was in the wrong."

Klennert added the person had an Adam's apple, stating "women do not have this."

She said she approached school staff about it and spoke with the secondary assistant principal. As she told them what happened, she said they offered to let her use the nurses' bathroom.

"I told her that as a woman who was born a woman, I was in the right bathroom. Therefore, I should not be moved somewhere else," she said. "I was not the issue in this situation." 

Klennert said neither the secondary assistant principal nor any other staff attempted to figure out who the person was. Because of this, Klennert said it could not be mentioned at the time "that it was a transgender person, which is what I was told many times and how they are protected."

She asked how it is possible this person could be protected when no one looked into who they were.

"For all we know, it could have been a non-student trying to harm the other students," she said. "A women's bathroom is for privacy and where we are vulnerable. To add males into this place leaves women defenseless."

Klennert's mother, Monika, said the nurse's bathroom wasn't convenient because it was too far from her classes. She also asked if the board was thinking about the consequences of possible assaults if "males" are allowed to use the girls bathroom.

People were angry the district didn't already have a policy, with one parent saying they've repeatedly asked for one. The district does have guidelines, according to Superintendent Shon Hocker, that were developed in 2014. 

Others called for the end of the political fighting and to compromise.

"I think this misplaced outrage here in this room is resulting in an uptick in anti-LGBTQ bullying. We're seeing it at my kids' school, even the elementary school level," said Dr. Sarah Lynch, another parent.

SB 1100 requires schools to provide reasonable accommodations to students who can't or don't want to use a bathroom "designated for the person's sex." Superintendent Hocker says the district has been doing this for around a decade. 

"Every transgender student that I'm aware of wants to use a private bathroom facility to avoid exactly what's happened this past week," he said. 

In anticipation of the law passing, Hocker advised the board to use the April workshop to come up with a new policy. 

If passed by the House and signed by Governor Brad Little, that law would take effect July 1.

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