Ray Carter | December 20, 2022
Records undercut Edmond claims on bathroom assault
In a recent video, Edmond Public Schools Superintendent Angela Grunewald indicated an alleged Oct. 26 assault, in which a male student who identified as transgender reportedly attacked a female student in the girls’ bathroom, was not the result of school officials failing to enforce state law regarding school-bathroom access.
But several statements made by Grunewald in that video appear to contradict information in the associated police report.
Oklahoma law requires school-bathroom access to be limited based on students’ birth sex. Schools that do not comply can lose state funding and face civil lawsuits.
In her video statement, Grunewald acknowledged that a transgender student “initiated the fight” on Oct. 26 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.
But the lawmakers who authored the bathroom law noted several problems with Grunewald’s explanation.
“If the school is just taking them at their word because ‘they dress that way, that’s what they are,’ then they are in full violation of the text of that law,” said state Sen. David Bullard, R-Durant.
Under Senate Bill 615, which was passed by the Legislature and signed into law by the governor this year, 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.”
While Grunewald indicated that Edmond school officials were unaware that the accused assailant was male, student witness statements contained in the police report for the Oct. 26 incident indicate 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.” Other student witnesses informed the officer “that they speculated that [name redacted] was a [redacted] but did not know for sure.”
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 the officer asked the school’s registrar secretary for the birth certificate of the accused student assailant, but the certificate of birth “did not identify” the student’s sex. However, a paternity affidavit on file at the school included a section where the student “was marked as being male.”
When the officer inquired further, he was informed by the student’s mother that the youth “was born male but identifies as a female.”
State Rep. Kevin West, a Moore Republican who carried SB 615 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, noted the police report appears to explicitly contradict one of Grunewald’s claims.
“According to the police report, they had the birth certificate,” West said.
The fact that both a birth certificate and paternity affidavit were on file at Edmond schools doesn’t mean Grunewald personally viewed those documents, West noted, but he said the police report makes clear school officials had information on the transgender student’s birth sex, which would preclude the student from accessing the girls’ bathroom under state law.
“The school knew beyond a shadow of a doubt,” West said, “because they had that information.”
In addition, West noted that the Edmond district’s own website appears to undermine Grunewald’s statement.
“If you go to the Edmond Public School website and look at their enrollment requirements, birth certificate is required,” West said.
The referenced enrollment page on the Edmond schools’ website declares, “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 includes no language indicating the birth-certificate requirement does not apply to high-school students.
Bullard said he has requested a “full investigation” by the Oklahoma State Department of Education as allowed by the law. He said that process will provide Edmond school officials the opportunity to demonstrate if and how they complied with the law.
However, if the investigation finds Edmond school officials effectively ignored the law, the penalties could be significant.
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.
In addition, parents could file civil lawsuits against Edmond schools for noncompliance.
While the Edmond school district has adopted a policy stating that students and staff who refuse to comply with the bathroom law may be subject to disciplinary action, the existence of that policy is not enough to protect the district from sanctions if officials failed to faithfully implement the law.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction-elect Ryan Walters, who will begin his term in January, has already issued a video statement promising a thorough investigation “to find out what happened, what was the breakdown here, how was this allowed to take place?”
“It has come to light that in Edmond Public Schools, a boy claiming to be a girl went into the girls’ restroom and assaulted two young girls,” Walters said. “This is unacceptable and will not be tolerated here in the state of Oklahoma. Our Legislature and governor passed and signed a bill that says boys cannot go into girls’ restrooms for this precise reason. We are going to protect our young girls.”
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.