TEMPLETON, Calif.—New privacy stalls in single-sex changing areas, no more urinals, or even the elimination of locker rooms: This small-town California school district is considering drastic measures as it struggles to safeguard the safety and privacy of students without violating California's transgender bathroom access law.
Templeton Unified School District superintendent Aaron Asplund proposed a variety of potential solutions to the conundrum during a special school board meeting this week. His ideas drew from an hours-long debate that saw local parents shout one another down, exchange insults, and, in some cases, break into tears.
One woman told the school board that her son, a slight eighth grader, had mysteriously grown anxious and withdrawn and his grades had fallen. When she finally convinced him to open up, she said, he revealed that he was the only boy assigned a locker in an aisle with male-identifying girls. Another mom talked about a boy in a neighboring district, her friend's son, who she said had stopped using the restrooms at his high school to avoid embarrassing encounters with a female classmate who identifies as male.
The turmoil in Templeton, a politically reddish town in a purple district in a deep-blue state, offers a glimpse of what can happen when sweeping Democratic mandates of transgender "inclusion" run up against other students' comfort levels and deeply held local mores. Under the circumstances, school bathroom access laws—which 16 states and the District of Columbia have followed California in enacting—may foster more fragmentation than inclusion.
California requires schools to allow transgender students to use the restrooms and locker rooms that correspond with the gender identity, as opposed to their biological sex. Since the first-in-the-nation law was enacted in 2014, the number of U.S. teenagers who identify as transgender has nearly doubled, according to a report last year. The Templeton school district convened a meeting on Tuesday to address growing concerns about transgender students using opposite-sex restrooms and locker rooms in local schools.
Packed into a middle school band room on Tuesday, parents and other community members appealed to science and their Christian beliefs to explain why it was dangerous and wrong to allow boys into girls' changing areas, showers, and bathrooms, and vice versa. A crowd of LGBT activists and community members from outside the town joined other local parents who support the status quo. Many suggested even having the conversation was hateful, or at least ignorant. Some audibly laughed or sighed in response to the religious appeals.
A lipstick-wearing older man, who dressed as a woman and introduced himself as a transgender lesbian, dismissed concerns about mixed-sex restrooms and locker rooms as "silly."
"I identify as a female. I am a woman. What you see before you is a woman," he said. "Are we debating the right of a child or adult to use the restroom?"
One Templeton resident said that she could not wait for her children to graduate from high school so they could leave the "small minded" district.
The board member who convened the meeting, Jennifer Grinager, repeatedly faced vitriol from speakers for her one-time role as the leader of a local chapter of Moms for Liberty, an influential new conservative network that advocates against left-wing race and gender ideology in schools. Several speakers dismissed her by repeating claims that the group is a hate group, and one former elementary school teacher from the district likened it to the Nazis.
Robin Terra, a mother and former teacher in the district, was among those who sought to lower the temperature in the room and focus on policy.
"We have to fix the bathroom situation," she said. "It’s a hot topic for both the majority and the minority. We need to figure this out. If the kids are not happy, they’re not going to learn. We need to stop fighting each other, come together, and come up with solutions instead of bashing each other."
A woman who said her daughter had briefly identified as a boy recommended the approach of the girl's former middle school in another district where administrators let her daughter use a separate changing room.
The superintendent, Asplund, laid out his proposals after the public comment period, stressing that the school had to consider the "privacy, comfort, and safety" of all students rather than viewing the situation as a winner-take-all partisan fight. But he made clear the status quo would have to change "as we fully embrace the opportunity for students to use the facility of their gender identity."
For locker rooms, which pose the most privacy concerns, Asplund suggested putting up partitioned stalls in the general changing area so students could undress out of sight—an idea the board seemed to favor the most. He noted that physical education teachers have to supervise their students changing for P.E., and now that they have transgender students they are now seeing adolescents of the opposite sex undress.
Other ideas included an individual, fully private changing room any student could use, or even the complete elimination of locker rooms. Students could also be allowed to wear their regular clothes during P.E. and avoid changing altogether if they are not comfortable in the locker room.
To address privacy concerns in mixed-sex restrooms, Asplund suggested, single-person facilities could be opened, urinals could be removed from the boys' restrooms and replaced with stalls to maintain privacy, or monitors could be employed to prevent inappropriate behavior between boys and girls.
One possible advantage of switching to gender-neutral restrooms that board members noted: The district could get ahead of a bill California Democrats have been advancing to mandate such facilities at every school.
While California is at the national forefront of advancing gender ideology in schools, students and parents in other blue states are also pushing back on transgender access to school bathrooms. In Wisconsin, four 14-year-old girls filed a federal Title IX complaint against their school after an 18-year-old boy who is transitioning to female exposed his genitalia to them in the locker room. A group of Ohio parents sued their district for allowing transgender students into opposite-sex restrooms and locker rooms as the state considers a bill to restrict such access.
In Virginia, the state and the federal government are investigating Loudoun County Public Schools for its handling of a boy's 2021 sexual assaults of two girls at district schools, one of which occurred in a girl's restroom. Last year, Virginia Gov. Glen Youngkin reversed rules that school restroom and locker room usage must be based on gender identity.
Even as polling shows that a large majority of Americans believe gender is and should be defined by biology, the Biden administration's pending Title IX rule would compel schools to let transgender students use bathrooms that align with their gender identity.