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Vermillion School Board passes state's first 'Gender Equity and Access Policy'

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The Vermillion School Board meeting began Monday evening with a chamber filled to capacity. The bulk of the crowd was there for the second reading and final vote on the “Gender Equity and Access Policy."

The policy, which the board adopted, will allow binary transgender students to use restrooms that align with their gender identity.

Until now, the district has had an informal practice of having trans students use single-stall facilities often located in a nurse’s office a distance from shared restrooms.

That meant the district was segregating transgender students, which former Vermillion City Attorney Jim McCullough said could invite lawsuits based on sexual discrimination and civil rights. He died recently but addressed the issue at past meetings.

“I think we’d have to adopt a policy that would allow trans children to use the bathrooms of their gender identity," he said. "I think if we ever got sued over it, based on the balance of cases I’m seeing, they would be against our policy as it currently sits and I know large attorney fees get awarded in the cases that prevail, so if we were to get sued, we would lose and they’d sock us for a bunch of money.”

More than two hours of public comment ensued Monday night before board deliberation. Opponents talked about their religious beliefs and opinions, while proponents cited research that says affirming young people's gender identity keeps them alive and engaged in school activities.

A survey circulated in the week prior to the meeting gathered over 1,000 signatures in support of the policy.

Before the vote, board members removed language pertaining to overnight accommodations and use of locker room facilities.