School bathroom bill clears House

Education , Good Government

Ray Carter | April 29, 2022

School bathroom bill clears House

Ray Carter

Oklahoma public schools will no longer be allowed to force female students to share public bathrooms with male students under legislation that received broad approval in the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

As amended in the House, Senate Bill 615 requires public schools to designate restrooms for the “exclusive use” of the male sex or for the “exclusive use” of the female sex. The legislation defines “biological sex” to mean the “physical condition of being male or female, as identified at birth by that individual's birth certificate.” Under the bill, individuals would be required to use the restroom that corresponds to their individual biological sex or otherwise access single-use restrooms.

Schools that fail to comply with the proposed law could face a 5 percent reduction in state funding.

“This is common-sense legislation that gives our public-school districts clear guidance on bathroom policies,” said state Rep. Kevin West, a Moore Republican who authored the amendment to SB 615. “We currently have a school district in our state that has asked for clarity on this issue, and we have parents that want to protect their children. The state attorney general has said it is up to the Legislature to pass a law making it clear that school restrooms should be designated based on biological sex for privacy and safety purposes.”

The bill’s passage comes after the Stillwater school board recently refused to revoke its policy allowing boys to use the girl’s bathrooms based on self-proclaimed “gender identity.” The board passed a resolution saying the Stillwater district would not change course “unless it has no choice but to alter its practice because of binding authority directing otherwise.”

The bill also comes after State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister requested a formal opinion from the office of the attorney general that included questions suggesting support for mandating that schools allow boys to use girls’ restrooms. Among other things, Hofmeister’s request asked, “What, if any, law requires local educational agencies to prohibit students from using the restroom facilities that align with their gender identity?”

She also suggested the recent passage of a law banning boys from competing in girls sporting events showed that state lawmakers supported a policy granting male access to girls’ bathrooms.

“Does the mention of athletic teams but exclusion of other programs or areas of school district operations demonstrate legislative intent to not prohibit students from using the restroom facilities that align with their gender identity?” Hofmeister wrote.

Under Hofmeister’s leadership, the Oklahoma State Department of Education has informed schools that “legal precedent has addressed the need for equal access, including facilities,” although she has since distanced herself from those recommendations.

In contrast, Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor has said that is not true and schools are still free to restrict bathroom access based on biological sex. O’Connor has also stated in a letter that “no current Oklahoma law expressly governs the practice of opening school restrooms to students based on their self-identity” (emphasis in original) and noted that “the Legislature has the authority to directly address this practice to remove any doubt or ambiguity and, in the Attorney General’s view, it would be wise to do so expeditiously.”

SB 615 also included provisions requiring that parents be notified in advance anytime a school plans to provide “instruction related to sexual orientation and gender identity, whether it is offered as part of a sex education class or program or as part of any other class or program,” and that parents must be allowed to review those materials. The legislation also allows parents to opt their children out of such instruction.

Following the bill’s passage, several Democrats released statements condemning the legislation.

“Oklahomans are surviving on mutual aid because our Republican-supermajority Legislature is attacking its people, and specifically our 2SLGBTQ+ youth,” said state Rep. Mauree Turner, an Oklahoma City Democrat who identifies as nonbinary. “We have used the power of the Legislature to drop last-minute legislation like Senate Bill 615 – a bill that codifies into law that counselors will continue to be a safe space for all students as long as they aren't 2SLGBTQ+ students.”

Rep. Monroe Nichols, D-Tulsa, said the legislation will deter some companies from locating in Oklahoma.

“Companies will not choose for their employees, and their families, to be subjected to laws that ostracize and marginalize their existence,” Nichols said. “SB 615 is not just a bad bill; it is a job killer.”

The legislation passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives on a 75-10 vote. It now returns to the Oklahoma Senate for consideration of House amendments.

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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