House Ed hears school bathroom bill; vote planned for Tuesday

by Steve Brawner ([email protected]) 1,054 views 

The Arkansas House Education Committee heard testimony on a transgender-related school bathroom bill Thursday (Jan. 26), but did not vote because there hadn’t been time to complete a fiscal impact statement following an amendment added the day before.

The committee heard testimony from numerous witnesses and is scheduled for a vote next Tuesday morning pending the statement.

As presented, House Bill 1156 by Rep. Mary Bentley, R-Perryville, would require public schools to provide gender-exclusive bathrooms and changing areas or provide single-occupancy facilities for students not willing to use those bathrooms. The bill also would require public schools to ensure students on overnight trips are not required to share sleeping quarters with a member of the opposite sex who identifies as a transgender person.

“It just simply states that girls will go to the girls’ bathroom, and boys will go to the boys’ bathroom, and those students that have difficulty or just are not comfortable doing that, they’ll be given a place where they can use a restroom, a changing room, and locker rooms,” Bentley said.

Under the bill that was presented, if the State Board of Education determines that a district or public charter school is not in compliance, 15% salary reductions would occur for the superintendent and principal. The penalty also would apply to the director or administrative head at a charter school.

Bentley said the original bill would have cut funding for noncompliant schools 5%, but that would have hurt students. The bill as amended instead penalizes adult administrators for noncompliance.

Dr. Mike Hernandez, executive director of the Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators, said in an interview that the AAEA originally supported the bill because it added clarity to the issue. When Bentley added the 15% penalties, the group tabled its support and is monitoring the legislation.

Bentley is working on another amendment that she said in a text would clarify the bill. It is expected to be available Jan. 27.

The bill defines “sex” as “the physical condition of being male or female based on genetics and physiology.” It would rely on the student’s sex as identified on their original birth certificate that was issued when they were born. The Division of Elementary and Secondary Education would create rules to implement the law.

The committee meeting featured testimony by two Conway School Board members, Linda Hargis and Dr. David Naylor Jr. The two said their school’s bathroom policy, which mirrors Bentley’s proposal, arose from an incident on an overnight trip last year when a transgender student who had been assigned male at birth roomed with two females.

Naylor said nothing changed as a matter of years-long practice at the high school after the policy was passed. He said there were eight transgender students out of 3,900 students in the junior high and high school.

Hargis said transgender individuals have the right to live their lives as they want, but they cannot violate other people’s rights. She asked male legislators how they would feel if a person assigned male at birth walked into a restroom or locker room where their daughters were.

Dr. Clayton Crockett, the parent of the transgender student who went on the overnight trip, told the committee that the student feels targeted, discriminated and bullied. He said she was OK with the practice of using a single use bathroom but felt singled out when it became a policy. He said the two female students had agreed to room with his child on the overnight trip.

“I can tell you that my daughter is a National Merit Semifinalist,” he said. “She has been honored by this very same school that is targeting her. She has had her picture on a billboard celebrating her accomplishment. She is applying to colleges, and she wants to leave the state of Arkansas as quickly as she can because of all of this.”

Rep. Vivian Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, asked how the bill would be enforced if it were difficult to determine a student’s gender. Bentley said teachers know their students.

Rep. Denise Garner, D-Fayetteville, said the bill will result in a lawsuit and that it will be blocked. She said she has six school districts in her legislative district, and bathroom problems aren’t related to gender dysphoria.

Bentley said the policy has already survived lawsuits elsewhere.