Georgia School District Ends Transgender Bathroom Policy After 'Death Threats, Student Harassment'
A Georgia school district is backtracking on a new bathroom policy for transgender students following “serious safety concerns,” including death threats and student harassment.
The Pickens County School District released a statement on Wednesday announcing it has reversed a newly implemented policy allowing students to use whichever restroom corresponds with their gender identity.
“There have been many serious safety concerns raised in the past few days. School board members, staff, and students have been threatened due to the administration’s implementation of the Adams vs. St. John’s County School District,” the statement read. “There have been death threats, student harassment, and vandalism of school property.”
The case to which the statement refers was decided in July 2018. U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Corrigan ruled that a Florida school district had to let a 16-year-old transgender boy use the men’s restroom, according to the St. Augustine Record. It was decided in the 11th Circuit, which has jurisdiction over Georgia, Florida, and Alabama, NBC News reported.
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The statement from the Pickens County School District said that while it “acknowledges that it has the responsibility to protect its staff and students,” it had fears it was unable to meet the “recently increased demands,” and would therefore be reversing the policy for now.
“The District shall return to bathroom procedures in place at the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year until it can consult with law enforcement and other safety professionals so that these concerns may be addressed,” the statement read. “We ask that all of our stakeholders exercise patience and discretion until these matters can be resolved.”
Superintendent Carlton Wilson tells PEOPLE that the mood within the district remains “somewhat torn,” as the issue is one “that people have strong feelings on on both sides.”
He says that the threats, which included graffiti, did not target any specific students, but transgender students as a group. He did, however, note that members of his staff, including the assistant superintendent and a board member, had been specifically targeted, and that the sheriff’s office is investigating.
The district, based in Jasper, Georgia, previously made efforts to address concerns and questions at a workshop on Monday.
A statement announcing the workshop said the policies had been made by federal courts, and that the district had “taken an oath to uphold the law, and we will.”
It noted that the high school had a transgender student who had requested to the use the restroom they identified with, and that the ask was permitted by the administration.
Wilson tells PEOPLE that despite the policy backpedal, the school still has a private, gender-neutral bathroom for any student, transgender or not, not wanting to use the multiple-person restroom.
The release further acknowledged concerns from parents, but said high school staffers monitored the restrooms during class changes, and would continue to enforce anti-bullying and harassment policies.
“Although I have met with our architect to develop a redesign of our restroom facilities, and we anticipate these changes to be implemented expeditiously, we still maintain single-stall restrooms in the high school that are available to any student who wants to use gender neutral restrooms, regardless of the reason,” it read.
Nearly 600 people attended the workshop, where about 50 people spoke, arguing both for and against the policy, NBC affiliate WXIA reported.
“You should be able to use any restroom that you want to use,” said attendee Kayla Hollyfield, WXIA reported. “This is not about left or right. It’s about equal rights. It’s not an agenda.”
Pickens says that moving forward, the district is looking into organizing a task force of professionals, law enforcement and mental health experts to devise solutions.
“This is not a Pickens County issue. It’s not a north Georgia issue, or even a southern issue,” he says. “This is a national issue and it’s ripping apart the very fabric of public education, making it virtually impossible for schools to do what they’re supposed to: educating our children.”
He continues, “We’re calling for our strong leadership at a state level, as well as the national level, as schools and communities continue to struggle with the issues like fighting expensive legal lawsuits and diverting valuable resources from what should be our only focus, and that should be educating our children.”