Burris policy now requires signed slip for name, facility changes

At the start of the year Burris had students sign permission slips for what prefered bathroom they were going to use for the year. This caused issues for transgender students who haven't came out to their family yet. Eric Pritchett,DN
At the start of the year Burris had students sign permission slips for what prefered bathroom they were going to use for the year. This caused issues for transgender students who haven't came out to their family yet. Eric Pritchett,DN

Writing rapidly, you’re 15 minutes into a test you’ve strenuously studied for, and then you’re pulled out of class.

Confusion flickers across your face. You think to yourself, “Have I done something wrong?”  

You nervously walk to the hallway, all the while, feeling your classmates’ eyes on your back.

The administrators want to see you and assess which bathroom you want to use.

While this scenario may seem unusual, Noah Golliher and Leigh Kumpe, transgender students at Burris Laboratory School, have been pulled out of their classes to discuss bathrooms five to seven times since the school year began.

At the beginning of the academic year, Golliher and Kumpe would use the men’s bathroom together, until fellow students reported them to the administration.

Following the report, both students were pulled out of class to talk about a new bathroom policy for transgender students.

After these meetings, a form was sent home for the students and their parents to fill out stating their preferred names and which facilities they prefer to use, which some say may cause an unsafe home environment for students.

When The Daily News reached out to Burris administration, Kathy Wolf, Ball State vice president of marketing and communications, said via email the form is meant to coordinate communication between families and the school.

“The form is provided directly to students who have made specific requests related to preferred name, gender identity, or gender pronoun,” Wolf said.

Wolf said students who have questions or concerns can speak with a principal at any time and that the responsibility is upon the student to give the form to their parents to sign.

In 2017, the Department of Education and the Department of Justice rescinded a key provision that gave policy and guidance to schools on “sex-segregated facilities based on gender identity,” to reconsider the legal issues involved, according to a letter written by both departments.

Although this guidance was not written into law, schools who received federal funding were required to abide by it.

Like many schools across the country, Burris is trying to find a solution to serve its transgender student population. However, Golliher said his parents believe he is being singled out.  

“I’m not like everyone else, and it sucks being reminded of that,” Golliher said.

Golliher, who is male but was assigned female at birth, discovered Burris had an open bathroom policy when he came to the school. Soon after, he began using the boys bathroom discreetly.

Prior to this year, there was no distinct policy that required a signed note, nor was the policy written into the Burris Laboratory School Student Handbook for the 2018-19 school year. And while the students were trying to get used to the change, Golliher said some administration members were “a little less accepting.”  

“People aren’t willing to learn new things and they aren’t as open as they could or should be,” Golliher said.

Once students request the form, they have a deadline to get the appropriate signatures.

Laura Janney, co-founder of Muncie OUTreach, an LGBTQ support group servicing the Delaware County and surrounding area, does not agree with Burris’ method.

“I think the last stitch where you have 24 hours to get it signed or be called by their birth name was emotional blackmail,” Janney said.

Students can’t face a day being called by their dead names — their name given at birth — Janney said. In order to avoid this, she tries to build transgender students’ confidence.

Janney said Golliher and Kumpe, who have advocated against the form, are making a difference for the youth in the closet or those who feel unsafe.

While the pair are raising awareness about the form on social media, one student in a neighboring county doesn’t have that option.                   

Thirteen miles away, Mack Tucker, a sophomore at Monroe Central Jr./Sr. High School, wants to use the men’s bathroom two to three times a day, but he doesn’t until he’s home.

Tucker, who is male but was assigned female at birth, said he also shields himself in the showers the moment he has to change in the girl’s locker room for gym class.

“It kind of makes me uncomfortable using the women’s restroom,” Tucker said.

Monroe Central Jr./Sr. High School, a school of more than 500, has no policy to distinguish if he can or cannot use the men’s bathroom. However, Tucker hasn’t told the administration that he is transgender, meaning he is unable to use the nurses’ office bathroom if he needs to.

“I’m sensitive to what other people think about me,” Tucker said.

Because of this, Tucker may hold his urine for several hours at a time, which can lead to harmful health effects.

For seven hours Turner holds it, and if Golliher and Kumpe hadn’t signed the paper, they would be holding it too.

However, a current Indiana lawsuit seeks to change these issues statewide.

A student at Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation (EVSC) sued the school for prohibiting him from using the bathroom, citing it violated Title IX and his 14th Amendment rights.

The case is still active. EVSC has appealed the injuction, but no further action has been taken.

Contact Gabbi Mitchell with comments at gnmitchell@bsu.edu or on Twitter @Gabbi_Mitchell.


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