Derby district rolls back bathroom access for transgender students

File photo

Beginning next week, transgender students in Derby will no longer be allowed to use bathrooms matching their gender identity.

By a 5-2 vote, Derby school board members decided Monday to reverse a procedure instituted last spring, which followed a federal directive from the Obama administration.

Board members voting in favor Monday said they heard significant opposition from community members over the past year who worried that allowing transgender students wider access to bathrooms raised privacy concerns for other students.

“This realigns the procedure with the culture and values of the larger community of Derby,” said board member Rick Coleman, who supported the change.

“If we have students that require distinct services, we as a district need to address those on an individual basis and not take rights away from other students.”

The decision came after a rollback of federal guidelines issued by the Trump administration last week.

Derby superintendent Craig Wilford explained the new directive and updated the board on its community task force on transgender issues. After that, board members voted to amend their agenda to discuss and then vote on the item, Wilford said.

Board members Coleman, Jose Martinez, Carolyn Muehring, Tina Prunier and Janet Sprecker voted in favor of returning to the previous procedure. Board president Matt Hoag and vice president Matthew Joyce voted against.

“This was more of a parent issue, not a kid issue,” said Joyce, who has a daughter at Derby High School.

“I’ve heard enough from my daughter’s friends about the topic over the last year that it became clear it wasn’t really an issue at the high school. None of those kids seemed to care about it.”

Derby High School, just south of Wichita, began allowing students to use bathrooms matching their gender identity last May. The move sparked a backlash from some parents, community members and politicians who said the decision endangered students’ privacy.

Beginning Monday, Derby schools will return to the bathroom procedures they had in place before last May. Transgender students will no longer be allowed to use bathrooms matching their gender identity.

Students with special restroom needs, including transgender students, will be encouraged to make arrangements with a school administrator, Wilford said. That could include using a private restroom in a school nurse’s office or faculty lounge.

“If any student feels that they need support in some way, they need to get with their building administrator, and we will do our very best to accommodate and help those students through whatever challenges they’re facing,” Wilford said.

Muehring, who supported Monday’s motion, said the board “had to consider all students and the reality of the guidelines that were presented” from federal officials.

“Mostly it was a community-driven decision,” she said. “The community wanted us to return to the way it was.”

Liz Hamor, co-founder of the Wichita chapter of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, said she was disappointed with the board’s decision.

“When you give trans students protections, you show them that you value and respect them and want them to feel safe in your care, and you set an example for the rest of the school and community as a whole that valuing and respecting each other is the norm and expectation,” Hamor said.

“When you take away those protections you undo all of that, and make your trans students targets for further bullying and harassment.”

Hamor encouraged transgender students facing discrimination at school or elsewhere to contact her group, which helps advocate for the rights of LGBTQ youth.

Tyler Krayer, 17, a senior at Derby High School, garnered enough votes from classmates to earn the title of Holly Ball King at the school's winter formal. Krayer, who came out as transgender when he was 15, has advocated for LGBTQ rights at the sc

Thomas Vitkus, a Friends University student and transgender male, asks the Wichita City Council to rewrite a city ordinance that makes it a crime for him to use the men's restroom. (Dion Lefler/The Wichita Eagle/May 17, 2016)

Suzanne Perez Tobias: 316-268-6567, @suzannetobias