A controversial rule adopted last month to accommodate transgender students in Bellevue Public Schools will remain in force, the school board decided Monday.
Board members refused to rescind the rule despite facing an unruly crowd of parents critical of the policy.
About 150 people attended the board meeting. Some of them supported the rule, which was adopted by the district’s administration Oct. 5, without a vote of the board.
Board members said that to withdraw the rule now would make the district vulnerable to legal action.
"At this point, I feel we’re stuck between a rock and a hard place," board member Phil Davidson said.
"I agree we would be making a big mistake by withdrawing it at this point," board member Mike Kinney said.
School district attorney Aimee Bataillon said delaying implementation would weaken the district’s defense if a discrimination complaint were filed on behalf of a transgender student.
Ray Cluff, a pastor, spoke as an opponent to the rule.
Cluff said he has four adult children who went through Bellevue schools.
He told the board he was shocked to hear that Bellevue was taking the lead in adopting a transgender policy — the first of the big metro-Omaha districts.
Cluff said his greatest concern was the "potential invasion of privacy and personal morality of all the students."
"Under this policy, it is possible for a fourth-grade girl to see a transgender male in her restroom or a locker room," he said. "It is only my assumption, but I think a transgender male and a male look the same naked."
The rule deals with access to locker rooms and bathrooms, dress codes and privacy.
Superintendent Frank Harwood, who put the rule in place, said it is intended to guide district teachers and staff on how to best support transgender students and their families.
The district enrolls about 10,000 students and has fewer than 30 transgender students, according to communication director Amanda Oliver.
Transgender is the term used to describe people who identify with a gender other than their birth gender.
The rule states that transgender students have a right to dress, use restrooms and participate in P.E. classes in accordance with their gender identity. It defines gender identity as "a person’s deeply held sense or psychological knowledge of their own gender, regardless of the sex they were assigned at birth."
Transgender students have a right to be addressed by the name and pronoun with which they identify, the rule says.
It also says such students shall not be required to use a locker room that is inconsistent with their gender identity.
Several board members including board president Nina Wolford said they had mistakenly believed the district was only adopting language approved by the state.
"I was under the impression that we were simply putting into a regulation language that was coming down from the state, however, I learned later the state is silent on it," Wolford said.
Several people said they were not pleased that the rule was put into effect without public comment.
"It seems like it was rushed to implementation, and many parents feel that they were blindsided," said Laura Williams.
When it comes to sports, the new Bellevue rule defers to the Nebraska School Activities Association.
The governing body of the association doesn’t have a policy but is in the process of drafting one to address transgender students participating in athletics.
Until that policy is drawn, the Bellevue rules call for working with the association to determine how to handle participation.