Findings expected to be shared at Oct. 3 BOE meeting
Stakes are high for USD 413 as the Board of Education awaits the results of Superintendent Kellen Adams’ investigation into transgender restroom issues causing controversy in the district.
The uproar centers on two Chanute High School transgender students and the alleged misuse of the girls locker room and restrooms.
A total of seven patrons, including two students, spoke out against the transgender students using the restrooms at the September board meeting.
A packed house at the meeting was riled up on a few occasions by hardline comments staunchly opposing the students’ alleged use of the restrooms, with the patrons airing their grievances.
The Biden Administration issued guidance in May directing schools and universities to treat transgender students according to their gender identity.
Noncompliance of the guidance could potentially result in a loss of federal funds, which nationwide averages close to 10 percent of the total funding for K-12 school districts. The loss of federal dollars would be significant for USD 413, as the district has spent months grappling with a budget shortfall and a decline in enrollment that has also cost the district several hundred thousand dollars in state aid.
“Any entity that receives federal funding — if you violate federal law, generally what the government says is, ‘Hey, we’re going to withhold federal funding until such time that you become compliant,’” Adams said of Title IX guidelines.
A citizen at the September board meeting claimed that the transgender identification is rooted in mental health issues, while another indicated that federal funding should be disregarded in the pursuit of rooting out the district’s transgender population.
Adams provided The Tribune with an update on the investigation. He said his report will apprise the board of the district’s situation, and how it aligns with current legislation and federal regulations. The report will seek to outline the current positions of the federal government and school district as it pertains to Title IX.
“My report will also include the various options that our board has and how they can possibly move forward,” he said, adding that his presentation and ensuing dialogue with the board will take place during open session. “I will give them the various options and the pros and cons that are associated with those options.”
Adams said he will provide the board with an administrative recommendation on the best plan of action, and that the final decision ultimately rests with the board.
“What I cannot tell you, simply because I don’t know, is what action the board will take that night,” he said. “But there will likely be some decision made — I just can’t tell you what it is because I truly do not know.”
The board will have the option of remaining status quo and complying with Title IX guidelines, but if it passed a policy that ran afoul of Title IX, the district would likely be held accountable until it came back into compliance.
“That’s the option that would align with the values of several of the concerned people,” Adams said. “The issue with that is that it would likely be in contradiction with federal law.”
Adams said a third “hybrid” option would be a form of modification.
“Capital improvements,” he said. “Remodeling, renovation, etc.”
Since being tasked with the investigation two weeks ago, Adams said much of his time has been spent on it.
“Literally half of my day each day,” he said.
Adams believes some in the community are misguided with their views on the matter.
“I think there are some people that believe this is an issue between what’s right and what’s wrong, and I will tell you that is not what it is, in my opinion,” he said. “It is an issue of what is currently legal and what is not legal.”
Some in the community are struggling to grasp that concept, Adams said.
“Because their personal values are not aligning with our current stance,” he said, adding that those individuals believe that the district’s moral compass has been compromised.
Adams said he can empathize.
“When you feel strongly about something and there is a policy that contradicts that by an entity such as a school district, your natural inclination is to believe that the value of the system is in question,” he said. “The reality is that this stance is all about the system maintaining legality.”
Adams said that he’s also spent ample time meeting with concerned parents and community members, and that it’s allowed for productive dialogue.
“This issue is not unlike a lot of others we deal with, where there are a lot of rumors and half-truths,” he said. “Unfortunately, those rumors and half-truths don’t do anything productive for us, but rather just create further confusion.”
Adams’ objective is to be an “agent of truth.”
“If they’re willing to give me the chance,” he said.
While Adams is set to deliver his findings at the Oct. 3 meeting, he indicated that a special meeting to address the issue remains a possibility, as does tabling the matter until November’s meeting.
“They really have all those options at their disposal,” he said of the board. “My job is to provide all the options to them, do my best on the research, and present all sides of the issue so that our board can be as informed as possible.”
Board member Ross Hendrickson made the motion at the September meeting that ultimately charged Adams and his leadership team with investigating the matter.
“My expectation was to look at any and all options for what the board might or might not do,” Hendrickson told The Tribune.
Hendrickson anticipates receiving information on the investigation from Adams prior to the Oct. 3 meeting.
“I will be receiving a briefing very shortly on what they are compiling and what the recommendations are going to be,” he said. “I was the one that made the motion to put the wheels in motion for our district to respond to this matter.”
Hendrickson said he has full confidence in Adams.
“I also have a very high-level expectation that we’re doing our due diligence to look at this issue from every side, and that every option is being thoroughly reviewed,” he said, adding that the situation has many moving parts.
Hendrickson said he’s keenly aware of the upheaval the issue has caused within the school district and community.
“I’m very mindful as a board member of the level of concern and extreme interest from the community and how there are a lot of people looking for a timely response,” he said, and he does not want to rush the process. “For a district of our size and the potential ramifications of whatever direction we go, I felt like it was prudent to give (Adams) enough time to look at all of the many different factors. My expectation is that there will be a great amount of time spent at the October board meeting discussing it.”
Hendrickson said it’s “very much a local issue,” but that the federal government has essentially stripped local boards of such decisions.
“It’s unfortunate that the federal government has taken some policy decisions that in my opinion should be left solely up to the local governing bodies,” he said. “In a perfect world, it should be a local decision — but they’ve tied in a pretty sizable amount of federal funding. It’s not an easy issue because it’s tied up with many different factors.”