School board discusses ’Bathroom Bill,’ safety

Linda Saholt

News Review Correspondent

When the Sierra Sands Unified School District board met on Aug. 15, the largest discussion was generated by an item not on the agenda.

AB 1266, the so-called “Bath-room Bill,” was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown on Aug. 12. While the bill was designed to protect the rights of children coping with transgender issues, it gave no direction for how school districts throughout the state are to implement the bill for the safety of all.

The law states, in part, “A pupil shall be permitted to participate in sex-segregated school programs and activities, including athletic teams and competitions, and use facilities consistent with his or her gender identity, irrespective of the gender listed on the pupil’s records.” This law is for all grades.

Board President Bill Farris said, “I think it’s important that people understand this issue. It goes into effect Jan. 1, 2014. We have to decide how we can protect all our students, their privacy and their safety. In my 30 years of this job, I have never seen anything so completely without thought as to how we can implement this in a reasonable way.”

“We are trying to protect the rights of one half of one percent at the expense of the other 99 and a half percent,” said Board Member Kurt Rockwell.

“This applies to shower facilities as well,” said Farris. “I don’t think we can keep kids safe under these circumstances.”

Board members said they were in agreement that transgender students, like all others, have a very real need to be protected, not only from bullying and discrimination, but also from potential predators lurking in the bathroom. Under this law as it currently stands, how can males be denied entrance to the girls’ bathroom or locker room?

“How in the world can you identify the individual who is truly struggling with these issues from those with other intentions who may take advantage of this law?” asked Farris.

“In the past we’ve dealt with this [transgender] situation,” said Amy Covert, board member.

“I don’t want transgender students set up for those who might harm them. We’re afraid of someone taking advantage. We want to protect all students.”

“Any implementation we’d have to do will be expensive. This law is 99 percent bad. It might help a few but will harm many,” said Rockwell. “What if my 14-year-old daughter goes into the girls’ restroom and is confronted by an 18-year-old man, who got in because of this law?”

In short, the issue here is one of how to implement the law so that all students are protected, not one of disagreement with transgender students’ rights.

The other subject that got a lot of discussion was a report on safety training in case of an “active shooter” situation.

Presented by Ernie Bell, assistant superintendent of Human Resources, the report centered on training offered by the Kern County Threat Assessment Task Force, as recommended by the U.S. Depart-ment of Homeland Security.

Sadly, having students get under their desks during an emergency is no longer the best tactic in “active-shooter” situations. In the Columbine tragedy, most of the fatalities were students sheltering under their desks.

The reality is that this type of situation can happen anywhere, so it is prudent to be prepared. “We’re trying to train staff to respond in case these things do happen,” said Bell. “We will conduct site trainings. This kind of situation is often over within 10 to 15 minutes, often before law enforcement can arrive, so individuals need to be prepared.”

Bell’s plan focuses on “alert, run, hide, and fight as last resort.”

“It usually takes one to 12 minutes for a response team to arrive. Our police department’s response time is less than two minutes. That’s spectacular! Response time is critical, as two to four people can be shot in a minute,” said Bell. “We also need to involve parents, to make sure they get instruction, too.

“You need to be able to think on your feet. We’d like to participate at each school with local enforcement agencies. We need to be able to train in case this ever happens here.”

“My son asked if the teachers were going to be taught to use Uzis,” said Loren Smith, local resident.

“The question was asked if teachers will be taught to use weapons, and the answer is no,” said Farris.

Story First Published: 2013-08-28