An audience member at a school board meeting Horry County, S.C., interrupted a heated discussion on policies affecting transgender students by singing “Jesus Loves Me.” And many of the people packed into the crowded hearing room joined in, drowning out the comments of a woman speaking on behalf of students who wish to use restrooms that align with their gender identity, even if it differs from their sex at birth.
Video of the incident, which I first saw reported by Slate, gives a glimpse into the divisive discussions happening on a local level as schools grapple with how to best accommodate transgender students in single-sex facilities. Correction: I originally wrote that a school board member started the singing, but according to NBC affiliate WMBF, the singing started while the board was in executive session.
Last month, after the Transgender Law Center sent a demand letter on behalf of a transgender student who was suspended for using the restroom matching his gender identity, the Horry County school board changed its policies to allow him to access the boys’ restroom.
In a statement following that decision, the board said it changed its policies to comply with a recent decision by a federal appellate court with jurisdiction over South Carolina. That decision held that the U.S. Department of Education’s assertion that Title IX requires schools to allow transgender students to use restrooms that match their gender identity is a valid interpretation of the civil rights law and that, when local schools’ interpretations of the law differ, courts should side with the federal agency.
From the district’s statement:
“However, Horry County Schools has not changed the male and female bathroom policies for our students. We have merely determined that transgender students in our schools, along with parents, can request bathroom rights that align with the recent court ruling. Our school administrators, in order to comply with the law and consider the rights of individual students, will make decisions with those students and their parents that are both fair and legal. Our schools, and those who lead them, understand that the safety of all students is paramount, and we will deal with any issue in which the safety and security of any student is in question. We understand that this is a very emotional issue for lots of reasons. We fully understand that all laws and decisions that follow are not universally popular. We must also have faith in the judgment of our administrators and teachers to comply with the law, ensure that all students are treated fairly, and to keep the safety of our students at the forefront every day.”
The Horry County board voted that night to file a brief in support of the Virginia school district at the center of the recent appeals court case. That court’s decision was made by a three-judge panel, and the district has filed an appeal asking for a review by the full court.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.