HOWELL, Mich. (WLNS) – Last week, a nine-year-old boy came home from school and told his father, Matt Stewart, that a girl was in the same bathroom as him-at the same time. And now, Howell Public Schools is in the middle of the “bathroom law” debate.
Howell Public Schools says it was following the federal Justice and Education Department guidance, which says transgender students have the right to use the bathroom for the gender with which they identify, when Stewart raised concerns with the school district administration. Stewart contacted Howell Public Schools’ superintendent, Erin MacGregor, and removed his three boys from the school system a week ago. He says Superintendent MacGregor acknowledged there was no official school board guidance on the issue.
We reached out to the superintendent and school board. The school district’s public relations director sent us a statement, which reads in part:
“…we work tirelessly to create an inclusive environment where all students feel welcome, safe and secure. At this time, we do not have any students using a restroom other than that for their biological sex, or requesting to do so. In light of this, and due to the fluidity of the situation, we are pausing on the federal guidance issued to all school districts across the nation …”
We asked the district spokesman if any transgender students have changed their habits or left the school district as a result of this incident. He declined to comment due to student privacy concerns.
We also spoke with Matt Stewart, whose children returned to the schools Monday, after the district suspended the guidelines. He shared a statement with 6 News, which says:
“We have never sought to deprive any other student of their rights only to protect the rights of our own children… We appreciate the district’s responsiveness and are hopeful that they will be more cautious and thoughtful in the future on decisions which affect so many…”
Equality Michigan, an advocacy group for the LGBTQ communities, doesn’t agree with the school district’s action. The organization told 6 News today:
“It is sad and disappointing that fear and bigotry were allowed to dictate public policy and potentially place any trans kid in that school in harm’s way… “
Dr. Jed Magen, a psychiatrist at Michigan State University, says he does not believe such bathroom incidents will have lasting impacts on the children who see transgender students as out of place in their restroom. Plus, it’s his opinion that a parent’s reaction to such an incident could cause damage too.
Howell’s school board will meet June 13 and the district spokesman expects the topic to be on the agenda.