North Manchester Town Council member Jim Smith addresses the school board. Photo by Maddie Jo ShultZ
North Manchester Town Council member Jim Smith addresses the school board. Photo by Maddie Jo ShultZ
Over 300 community members attended the Manchester Community School Board work session Wednesday in the administration office.

Some wore white to signify their protest, reinforced from last week’s school board meeting that “no biological boy should be using a girls restroom and no biological girl should be using a boys restroom,” according to a sheet of talking points that was distributed throughout the room. Others wore stickers that read, “You can pee next to me.”

All attendees came prepared to discuss the topic on the table: the development of a bathroom policy for gender-diverse students.

Board president Ruth Ayres clarified the difference between a public hearing and a meeting held in public, emphasizing that the current meeting was a work session conducted for the board to collect “meaningful and productive information.”

Ayres and MCS Superintendent Teresa Gremaux thanked everyone for being there. Gremaux said she hoped many of the public’s questions would be answered during the presentations.

Legal presentations came from school attorney Mark Frantz and Lisa Tanselle from the Indiana School Boards Association, who introduced recent case law of Title IX with regard to transgender or gender-diverse individuals.

The crux of Title IX is that no person in the United States shall be discriminated against on the basis of sex.

“Because it is brief, the language is left up to interpretation,” Frantz said.

Schools are allowed to have separate bathrooms and locker rooms for different sexes, however, the application of transgender students to these structures is left up to interpretation.

Frantz cited the Whitaker vs. Kenosha Unified School District case from 2017, in which a transgender male student – a biological female who identifies as male – sued the school whose policy forced the student to use the female restroom. The seventh circuit court ruled that the student could use whichever bathroom aligned with their gender identity, rather than their biological sex.

Tanselle has served as general counsel for the ISBA, a not-for-profit advisory organization, for 30 years.

“This is an issue facing many school corporations in the state of Indiana,” she said, adding that the issue has “required all of us to look differently as to the construction and design of restrooms and locker rooms.”

Following discussion from the board, Tammy Truijens, with the Wabash County Bowen Center, gave a gender diversity presentation. Truijens reported that 78 percent of transgender students report harassment from students, teachers or staff.

During the presentation a host of parents, including Nate Gephart, whose activity on social media and petition at drove many to attend the work session, stood up in protest before leaving the room.

“God made male and female,” one woman shouted at Truijens. Others addressed the school board, saying “We’ll have your jobs.”

After the presentation, board member Michael Hensley reminded the audience that theatrics do not solve problems. “We’re not here to solve social issues,” he said. “If you’re not here, how do we get your ideas?”

Gremaux again thanked those in attendance and explained MCS’ current practice with gender-diverse students. They are reviewed on a case-by-case basis and must work with counselors and administrators to create a gender plan.

“We are reviewing alternatives for locker rooms and bathrooms for all students,” Gremaux said.

During public comments, those who signed up to speak when they first arrived,  were allowed 90 seconds at the microphone.

Andy Eberly stressed his concern about the safety of children, saying, “Schools need to provide a safe environment for all students.”

Nancy Cripe, a community member of 59 years, admitted she was uncomfortable with the transgender issue at first but has “since listened to trans people’s stories” and “it alleviates a lot of anxiety.”

The board also heard from North Manchester town council member Jim Smith, who remarked, “As a community, we need to trust that decisions have been made that afford respect for everyone.”

Following public comment, audience members were given colored slips of paper and split into groups. Each group gathered in a circle in different areas of the building and participated in smaller-scale discussions, with one school board member present in each group.

After the meeting, Gremaux said that the board will “consider the public’s input” as they are “developing an improved procedure.”

There will possibly be another work session similar to this one in the future.