Education , Law & Principles

Ray Carter | May 31, 2023

Lawsuit says Edmond schools violated bathroom law

Ray Carter

A recently filed lawsuit accuses officials at Edmond Public Schools of knowingly violating an Oklahoma law that requires schools to limit access to group bathrooms based on a student’s sex, which mandates that only girls may access women’s bathrooms and boys access men’s facilities at state schools.

The lawsuit provides more details about an Oct. 22, 2022, incident at Edmond Memorial High School in which a transgender-identifying student reportedly attacked a female student in the girls’ bathroom at the school.

On May 25, Theresa Gooden filed a lawsuit against Edmond Public Schools on behalf of her 15-year-old daughter, who was “attacked and severely beaten by a seventeen (17) year old male transgender student in the designated girls’ bathroom” at Edmond Memorial High the morning of Oct. 22, 2022.

The petition states that at the time of the attack, officials at Edmond schools “had actual knowledge” that the accused male assailant “identified as a female student,” that the transgender student “was a male and not female,” that the transgender student’s “birth certificate and/or paternity affidavit on file” at the school identified the student “as a male and not female,” that the transgender student “regularly used the girls’ bathroom and not the boys’ bathroom,” and that the transgender student “made previous threats of violence against” Gooden’s daughter at school.

The petition states that officials at Edmond Public Schools “had the Edmond Police remove the male transgender student from the girls’ bathroom and search him for a weapon after his threats against” Gooden’s daughter were reported to school officials by another student on Oct. 21, 2022. That incident occurred the day before the transgender student reportedly assaulted Gooden’s daughter in the school bathroom.

The petition also states that on Oct. 21, 2022, Gooden’s daughter informed Assistant Principal Maryjel Cochrane that the transgender student “had confided in her that he was, in fact, a male student that identified as female,” but that school officials never notified Gooden “about the incident or that a male transgender student was using the girls’ bathroom” at the school.

The petition alleges that school officials allowed the transgender-identifying student “to continue using the girls’ bathroom, as opposed to requiring” the student to use the boys’ bathroom, and alleges that school officials’ inaction resulted in Gooden’s daughter being assaulted and enduring “severe physical and mental injuries, severe physical and mental pain and suffering, and severe emotional distress.”

The lawsuit seeks a judgment in excess of $75,000.

In response to a request for comment, Susan Parks-Schlepp, public information officer for Edmond Public Schools, said, “Because this matter is in litigation, there is little that can be said at this time. However, Edmond Public Schools is confident that when the facts are presented, it will be determined that the district fully complied with the law and acted in a reasonable manner.”

Under Senate Bill 615, which was passed by the Legislature and signed into law by the governor on May 25, 2022, all public schools “shall require every multiple occupancy restroom or changing area” to be designated for the “exclusive use of the male sex” or “exclusive use of the female sex” with access based on the sex listed on a child’s birth certificate.

Should an individual not wish to use the bathroom designated for his or her sex, the legislation requires that public schools “shall provide a reasonable accommodation” by granting those individuals “access to a single-occupancy restroom or changing room.”

The incident in which Gooden’s daughter was reportedly assaulted has been the most high-profile case in Oklahoma involving an alleged violation of the law.

In a video released in late 2022, Edmond Public Schools Superintendent Angela Grunewald indicated the alleged Oct. 26, 2022, assault was not the result of school officials failing to enforce the state’s bathroom law.

But some statements made by Grunewald in that video appear to contradict information in the associated police report.

In her video statement, Grunewald acknowledged that a transgender student “initiated the fight” and claimed the youth had been enrolled in the Edmond school system for only a handful of days before the alleged bathroom assault occurred.

“When the student enrolled, the student enrolled as a female and presented themself as a female, and so had been accepted as a female,” Grunewald said. “Now, you may ask yourself, ‘How can that happen?’ It’s hard to explain, but if a parent comes in and enrolls their child as a certain gender, and when you look at that child by all social norms they look and present themselves as that gender, it’s not something that you would question.”

She said birth certificates are not required to enroll in an Edmond high school.

However, while Grunewald indicated Edmond school officials were unaware that the accused assailant was male, student witness statements contained in the police report for the Oct. 26, 2022, incident indicated that students knew or strongly suspected the accused assailant was a boy.

Although the names of minors are redacted from the police report, it quotes a student witness explicitly stating that one of the students involved in the assault “is a man.”

The police report also showed that the Edmond district had a birth certificate on file for the student as well as a paternity affidavit, with the latter document listing the student’s sex at birth. The police report showed that a paternity affidavit on file at the school included a section where the student “was marked as being male.”

In addition, the enrollment page on the Edmond schools’ websites at that time declared, “Documentation needed includes two verifiable proofs of residency, a legal birth certificate, immunization records and a photo ID of the parent or guardian.”

The website included no language indicating the birth-certificate requirement did not apply to high-school students.

Under SB 615, schools found to be noncompliant “shall receive a five percent (5%) decrease in state funding” the following year, an amount that could exceed $5 million for Edmond schools.

NOTE: This article has been updated since publication. When first contacted for this article, a spokesperson for Edmond Public Schools declined comment, saying the district’s practice is to refrain from commenting on litigation. The article, as originally published, noted that fact. After publication, Edmond school officials changed course and sent a statement. This article has been updated to include the school’s statement.

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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