By Mary Margaret Olohan | The Daily Signal
Two Vermont high school girls did what few of their peers have dared: When a biological boy who identifies as a transgender girl entered their locker room, they asked that student to leave.
The Randolph, Vermont-based Randolph Union High School told the community in a Sept. 23 email that it is “launching a harassment investigation” — apparently into the girls’ conduct rather than the 14-year-old trans-identify student’s behavior, parents suggested. The Daily Signal has chosen not to name these students due to their youth, though local outlets have reported some of their names.
Since then, The Daily Signal has spoken with a number of parents who are outraged that the school and Orange Southwest School District allowed such an incident to occur. These parents do not want biological boys in their daughters’ locker rooms, and they are bewildered as to why the school system apparently prioritizes the needs of students who identify as transgender over the needs of their daughters.
“We allowed a child who is biologically the opposite sex, male, go in a locker room where biologically girls were getting fully changed,” one of the girls’ mothers told The Daily Signal. “The biological child was not changing and sat in the back and watched girls getting changed. That made girls feel uncomfortable, made girls feel violated and not protected.”
“When parents and kids went to the school principals they were told it was a law—nothing they could do about it,” she added. “The law gives them room to protect all and they did not.”
Beginning Friday afternoon, The Daily Signal has unsuccessfully attempted to reach the student who identifies as transgender or the student’s mother via social media and email.
Girls Speak Out
Female student A, who is 14 years old, told The Daily Signal in a phone interview that she was dressing for a game when the trans-identifying student began to enter the locker room. She shared that she was not wearing a shirt, only a bra, and was halfway through putting on her shorts.
“Please don’t come in here, we’re still changing,” she says she called out, as she struggled to clothe herself.
But the trans-identifying student allegedly told her that it was fine, entered the locker room, and stood in the corner “watching” as the other girls finished dressing. Female student A said that the interaction made her incredibly uncomfortable, and her mother compared the incident to “voyeurism” in a phone interview with The Daily Signal.
Asked why she took issue with the trans-identify student entering the bathroom, female student A answered slowly, as if surprised she must explain: “It’s a dude.”
“He was born a boy,” she said. “I don’t care if he’s on my team, he can join any team, I don’t care. But when I’m undressing and there’s a male in the girls locker room or in the bathroom with me, I feel very uncomfortable.”
Female student B told The Daily Signal in a phone interview that she also unsuccessfully told the student that identifies as transgender that the girls needed their privacy.
“I think everyone feels this way about going into a locker room, you shouldn’t be uncomfortable,” said female student B, who is also 14. She joked that since all the girls have the same body parts, they are comfortable changing around one another. “But then when [the trans-identifying student] comes through, it doesn’t feel that way. It’s like, a male is in here. Everyone feels so awkward.”
Female student B said that though she asked the trans-identifying student to leave the locker room, the student stayed. When she and her fellow teammates tried to bring the matter to school officials, she said, they were told that they had to comply with state law (which allow students to use bathrooms and locker rooms corresponding with the gender they identify with).
Most of the girls’ teammates agreed that biological boys should not be allowed in the girls’ locker rooms, both female students told The Daily Signal. Female student A said that she only knew of their two volleyball teammates who said they were fine with the student who identifies as transgender being in the locker room while they changed.
“Everyone was telling me they were happy that I did the thing on the news to get awareness about it,” female student B said, referencing an interview she did with a local outlet. “They don’t like it either.”
But female student B said that on Thursday, during a math class, some of her friends showed the news hit to the trans-identifying student. According to female student B, the student allegedly reacted to the video by allegedly saying, “I’m going to f—ing kill someone,” before allegedly adding, “I f—ing hate” female student B.
Female student B said she headed to the principal’s office as soon as she heard what the trans-identifying student had allegedly said. Co-principal Lisa Floyd reportedly told her that the school would conduct a threat assessment, she said, police arrived, and she was ultimately sent back to class (Floyd did not address The Daily Signal’s request for comment on the trans-identifying student’s alleged remarks but stressed that “student safety is our District’s highest priority”).
On Friday afternoon, the girls said, both female student A and B played in their volleyball game with the trans-identifying student.
Female student A and B both told The Daily Signal that the student had allegedly also said, “my male instincts are kicking in,” referring to another female students’ breasts (though neither female student A nor female student B heard the remarks made herself).
In a comment on a local outlet’s Facebook post about the incident, a woman who claims to be the trans-identifying student’s mother denied that any such comments were made.
“I am the mother of the trans student in question and my daughter did not make any comments at all. The entire team can back this up, other than the girl that made up the story for attention,” Facebook user Mo Sivvy posted (she did not immediately respond to a request for comment).
“This is slander, defamation of character, and we have secured a lawyer,” the comment continued. “My daughter has no interest in anything other than being accepted for who she is and playing volleyball. What inappropriate comments would she have made, I’m curious? This is outrageous. The ACLU has been enlisted. There will be a thorough investigation and truth will prevail.”
The ACLU did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Daily Signal.
The School’s Response
The Daily Signal questioned authorities and school officials about the trans-identifying student’s alleged conduct and remark. Orange County Sheriff William Bohnyak told The Daily Signal on Friday evening that the “incident is currently under investigation,” noting that “we are working with school officials and parents to make sure all are safe.”
In a Tuesday email to families, co-principals Lisa Floyd and Caty Sutton as well as Athletics and Activities Director Nick Bent announced that the locker room would be closed to all volleyball players until further notice.
“We do not make this decision lightly, but we believe it is the right decision at this time,” the email said, encouraging volleyball players to come to school dressed for their game or prepared to change in another space.
And in a Friday email to the school community, school superintendent Layne Millington told parents that there “are no credible threats affecting the district or high school.”
Millington cited an ongoing investigation into an incident involving the girls’ volleyball team, saying that Orange Southwest School District could not share information about it due to federal privacy laws.
“I am saddened once again, by the discourse on social media that appears to fly in the face of the laws and regulations the district must enforce when it comes to prohibiting discrimination and providing an environment that is safe for all learners,” he wrote. “Since much of the current posts deal with LGBTQ students, I’ve attached below the related advisory from the Agency of Education. The district does and will continue to strictly enforce all laws and regulations related to these matters.”
In response to a request for comment from The Daily Signal, Millington said that “unequivocally,” student safety is “our District’s highest priority,” noting that “the District has policies and procedures to respond to student harassment based on protected characteristics or other misconduct.”
“We are not able to discuss any specific students because of federal privacy laws,” he said. “However, when we become aware that there may have been a violation of our policies, including harassment of other students, we respond immediately. Where the policies and expectations are violated, we take disciplinary action consistent with the law and which are reasonably calculated to prevent further misconduct. We also do our best to give victims supportive measures.”
Millington also told parents in an email that the district website had been hacked and reportedly inundated with “hate speech, symbols, and photographs targeting transgender individuals.” The superintendent said that the district cabinet will be meeting Sunday, and that the district will “further assess with law enforcement what we learn over the next 24 hours and use it to create a response plan to ensure our students and schools continue to be safe and supportive.”
“Related to all this, the press has been asking for comments from the district on the girls’ volleyball incident,” he continued, citing FERPA, the confidentiality law, and emphasizing that it is designed to protect students. “To be clear, the district cannot comment because all student information is confidential and protected by federal law: we can’t comment on who was involved, we can’t comment on the incident, we can’t comment on the findings, we can’t comment on discipline or consequences, and we certainly can’t comment on the investigation itself.”
Parents Weigh In
The Daily Signal spoke with numerous Randolph High School parents who condemned the school’s behavior and expressed frustration with the way in which school authorities have handled the incident. Most of the parents asked to remain anonymous to protect their daughters’ privacy in light of heavy criticism they have already received for speaking out or in order to protect their children’s future collegiate prospects.
“Transgender [students] have more rights than our girls,” said one Randolph High School mother whose daughter plays on the school’s volleyball team. This mother asked to remain anonymous to protect her daughter’s privacy.
“RU principals and administration cannot pick and choose who to listen to, who they have empathy for, and when they keep children safe,” said another Randolph High School mother who also asked to remain anonymous to protect her child’s privacy (her daughter also plays on the volleyball team). “They also need to always remain fair and balanced and the superintendent needs to get in tune with professionalism and not bullying families, and their beliefs.”
A Randolph High School father (who asked to remain anonymous to protect his children’s privacy) slammed the district for becoming increasingly progressivein recent years, asking, “Have we lost all common sense? We’ve been pounded on the last two years to trust the science. I suppose if they were correct about one thing during that era it would be that science is in fact always changing according to certain narratives, but I’ll never be able to understand this.”
“They all collectively blew it big time here,” he said of school officials
John Helfant, the father of three children enrolled in the school system, shared with The Daily Signal an email he sent to the school board, superintendent, and the principals at Randolph High School.
Helfant cites Vermont’s voyeurism statute, which states that “no person shall intentionally view, photograph, film, or record in any format” the “intimate areas of another person without that person’s knowledge and consent and under circumstances in which the person has a reasonable expectation of privacy.”
“There are no exemptions for schools,” he said, emphasizing that it is a “clearly a law violation for a male student to view, watch a female student change her bra or underwear in a women’s locker room or bathroom.”
“My entire life, there’s been this fight for women’s rights and equal pay,” the father said to The Daily Signal in a Sunday phone interview. “Guys are literally attacking women’s rights that have been fought so hard for since, you know, the last 100 years, since the suffragettes and to the present time. So it just doesn’t make any sense to me. And I don’t understand why more people aren’t speaking out against it.”
Wayne Townsend, a Republican running for election to the Vermont House of Representatives this year, also condemned the school district’s handling of the situation and told The Daily Signal that many in the local community are gravely concerned about the goings-on at the high school.
“We plan to stand behind these girls and their parents while this is being sorted out,” he said, adding, “There’s none of us trying to run anyone out of our community. We understand that we need to coexist with people that think and act differently than we do. However, when it comes to the safety of our children, we take major concern.”
Townsend accused the superintendent of causing “division and chaos” within the community, noting: “The supreme law of the land indicates we are to protect the majority of our people and in this instant our superintendent is putting one individual‘s feelings over the safety of many.”