Berkeley County has become the first public school district in the Lowcountry to wade into the transgender restroom debate, making it clear that such students can use the restroom with which they identify.
Mother Amy Guerry said she was called to Berkeley High School last week for a meeting with administrators and district officials.
“I was told during that meeting that they were going to follow the 4th Circuit and allow my daughter to use the bathroom she identifies with,” Guerry said. Sera, 16, was previously was relegated to facilities in the nurse’s office or the faculty restroom.
In celebration the next school day, the teen snapped selfies in the bathroom that previously was off limits to her.
“We never thought it would happen, so there’s that moment of shock that it actually has happened,” Guerry said.
Guerry said she was also told Sera can now participate in school activities as a female and go on overnight trips.
Dorchester 2 and Charleston County school officials said their districts do not have such policies, but Charleston County spokesman Daniel Head added that the district “strives to maintain a safe and supportive learning and educational environment that respects and values all students.”
Last week, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals deferred to the U.S. Department of Education’s position that transgender students should have access to the bathrooms that match their gender identities — rather than being restricted to bathrooms that match their biological sex.
That ruling is just one example of how the national debate over bathroom access for transgender people has reached full bloom this spring.
North Carolina recently became the first U.S. state to require transgender people to use restrooms in public buildings and schools that match the sex on their birth certificate instead of their gender identity.
Meanwhile, retailer Target announced that transgender people are welcome to use the restrooms that they identify with the most.
Both moves have resulted in ongoing boycotts and other protests.
South Carolina Sen. Lee Bright, R-Roebuck, filed a bill requiring transgender people to use bathrooms matching the gender on their birth certificates, not how they may identify themselves. But Bright’s bill essentially died Wednesday.
Gov. Nikki Haley has said it’s not needed in South Carolina.
“While other states are having this battle, this is not a battle that we have seen is needed,” she said. “And it’s not something that we see citizens asking for in South Carolina.”
In a statement, the Berkeley County School District said it “has a legal and professional responsibility to maintain the privacy of our students and staff. ... We will offer no further comment on any matter that could compromise the privacy rights of any BCSD student or staff member.”
Berkeley County “does not have district or school policies written specific to restroom usage,” spokeswoman Katie Orvin said. “BCSD implements current anti-discrimination policies under the guidance of the U.S. Department of Education and in accordance with Title IX,” which prohibits sex discrimination at schools that receive federal funding.
Board members reached Wednesday said they were surprised to hear about the emails because, usually, such matters are decided by the board, including a policy called “Student Sexual Discrimination and Harassment.”
“I’m not going to comment on the merits of the policy other than to say this policy never came before the board and the board has never voted on this policy,” board member Mac McQuillin said.
Berkeley County Councilman Tommy Newell, a father of two daughters, said the board’s lack of involvement in the decision “tells me there is a certain faction pushing their own agenda against the will of the people.”
He said it will be difficult to enforce the policy.
“This policy effectively eliminates all gender designations on all bathrooms, faculty restrooms and locker rooms — making them all unisex,” he said. “How is the school district protecting the rights of students and teachers who are not transgender?”
Summerville teen Luke Reed said he has been using the boys restroom at Ashley Ridge High School since the April 19 ruling.
“I don’t know that anybody at the school realizes it,” said his mom, Amy Reed. Previously, Luke was restricted to using the facilities in the nurse’s office, which sometimes caused issues when his classes were on the other side of the large school campus.
“I think that eventually Dorchester 2 will jump on board with what Berkeley County did,” he said.
Melissa Moore, executive director of We Are Family, a nonprofit that provides resources to families, praised Berkeley’s decision but added that its officials were just following the law.
“There are a lot of anti-LGBT bills that have been sweeping the South, particularly these bathroom bills,” she said. “Berkeley County coming out publicly and supporting their transgender students goes a long way.”
Guerry said she believes her daughter’s school was just trying to be as low-key as possible about making the change.
“I got the impression Berkeley High School just wanted this to be a normal thing for her,” she said. “(The school) did it on their own, and I have to give them props for that. We have worked with them for so long and fought with them for so long about just letting her be a girl.”
Reach Brenda Rindge at 843-937-5713 or @brindge on Twitter.