Education , Law & Principles
Ray Carter | August 25, 2022
School bathroom regs adopted; Hofmeister voices concern
Members of the State Board of Education voted to approve emergency regulations that restrict school bathrooms to members of one sex, although State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister addressed transgender concerns even as she voted in favor of the new regulations.
“I want to ensure that we send a message that every child in Oklahoma schools belongs and is valued,” Hofmeister said. “And mental health is an aspect of a child’s life, and we know that there are vulnerable communities that are at high risk for consequences of deteriorated mental health. And I would like that separated from what we are discussing today, which is a very procedural element that actually provides due process in this application of the law.”
Senate Bill 615, which was passed by the Legislature earlier this year, states that 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. (School districts already maintain copies of students’ birth certificates.)
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.”
Schools that fail to comply could lose 5 percent of their state funding, and parents would have a legal cause of action against a district for noncompliance.
The agency regulations approved by the State Board of Education state that schools must adopt a policy in compliance with the law. Should school districts fail to obey the law, students, parents, teachers, school staff, and members of the public may file a complaint with the State Board of Education. School districts would then have 15 days to request an opportunity to appear before the State Board of Education and/or submit a written response.
School districts found to be noncompliant will receive a 5-percent decrease in state funding the following fiscal year.
If mitigating factors are present, the state board can instead impose a probationary period.
The regulations were adopted without opposition, although Nicole McAfee, executive director of Freedom Oklahoma, urged board members to reject the regulations and ignore the law.
McAfee, who wore a mask while speaking and announced that her pronouns are “they/she,” said Freedom Oklahoma works “to build a future where all two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual and fuller-spectrum of people marginalized by gender, gender identity, and/or sexuality” have safety.
McAfee said transgender students will “die” if the law is enforced, citing mental-health impact on those students, and also offered other scenarios.
“Some days, because of folks like you in power, in rooms like this, my job is the worst,” McAfee said. “Because I have to talk to parents whose kids are afraid about what would happen if they were having to use the single-stall facility at the other end of their school building when a shooter came in and they couldn’t make it back to their classroom.”
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.