On December 1, the U.S. Department of Education “opened a sexual harassment investigation of the Sun Prairie School District after an incident in March in which a transgender female student allegedly disrobed in front of four girls in the shower area of a high school locker room,” according to the Wisconsin State Journal. While the incident being investigated happened in March of the same year, the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty filed a complaint claiming that the district “failed to appropriately respond to the incident under Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination in educational programs on the basis of sex.” Our Lives will not be including quotes from WILL, as they not only mischaracterize what happened, but they also misgender and villainize the trans student in question.
When the incident occurred, the conservative media had a field day, grossly mischaracterizing the incident in a ploy to continue to demonize and other transgender students, particularly when it comes to bathrooms and sports. They did so with so much fervor that the Sun Prairie School District had to create a website directly addressing what happened, what the district has done in response, and also to outline general policies and support for the LGBTQ+ community within the district. According to this site, an email sent out to parents on April 22 stated the following:
While we do not know the source of the information that has been shared about this incident, we need to make one thing clear: several accounts of this incident are ill-informed, inaccurate, and incomplete. While student privacy and other laws prevent the District from addressing the specific events that occurred, we can share the following information:
• All individuals involved in this incident were students enrolled in the District.
• The District addressed this incident after it was brought to the District’s attention.
• The District took steps to ensure a similar incident does not recur.
• The District talked with the students and families who were involved who came forward.
• The District offered and provided support to the involved students and their families.
Further, and to be clear:
• The Sun Prairie Area School District does not condone any student of one sex being present in a state of undress in the presence of students of another sex.
• The District does not condone a student of one sex showering in the presence of students of another sex.
• What happened in this incident was not in line with our District’s practices.
Unfortunately, what is playing out in the media is based on assumptions about this incident that are simply untrue. We know it is easy to blame schools for events like this when people are outraged. The simple truth is that this incident should not have happened. But it did, and the District addressed it long before the recent publicity.
This same site includes messages of support for the district’s LGBTQIA+ community from Mayor Paul Esser; Dane County Board Supervisor Analiese Eicher; Representative Melissa Ratcliff; Senator Melissa Agard; and Brian Juchems, Executive Director of GSAFE. While it continues with an acknowledgement that the laws surrounding trans students have been vague, and interpretations vary around the country, Sun Prairie will follow guidelines put out by the Seventh Circuit, which state that “school policies prohibiting bathroom access consistent with a transgender student’s gender identity can violate both Title IX and the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.”
In a letter written to Daniel Lennington, deputy counsel for the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, The U.S.Department of Education acknowledges both the complaint and the law that the complaint states was broken by how the district responded to the incident, but clarifies that the investigation does not mean that they have found any wrongdoing. “Please understand that opening an investigation does not mean that OCR has made a decision about the complaint,” the letter outlines. “During the investigation, OCR is neutral; OCR will collect and analyze the evidence it needs in order to make a decision.”