Pickens County school officials asked a transgender student at the district's Career & Technology Center not to use the boys' bathroom, according to a statement from the school district and a police report — in apparent violation of federal guidelines that say transgender students should be allowed to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity.
The student, whose name is listed in citations as Kinsey Lynn Evans, 18, was charged with third-degree assault and disturbing schools after an alleged altercation with a deputy over the bathroom issue, according to an incident report and tickets issued in the case.
Evans is listed as female on the incident report.
The school district said the arrest stemmed from a confrontation between the student and the school resource officer, not the student's use of the boys’ bathroom.
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“We recognize that this incident touches on ongoing national conversations about the rights of transgender students in our society, as well as the role of law enforcement in our schools,” the district said in a statement to The Greenville News. “In light of this reality, we must emphasize that the arrest in this situation was not the result of the student's attempt to use a male restroom.
“The student was arrested solely for assaulting and threatening an officer during an altercation which the student appeared to initiate.”
Evans didn’t respond to repeated requests to speak to the newspaper about the case. Evans is represented by the 13th Circuit Public Defender’s Office, according to the Pickens County Magistrate’s Office. The Public Defender’s Office said it couldn’t comment on the case or confirm any client’s identity.
Evans has requested a jury trial, according to court records, the Magistrate’s Office said.
The U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Education sent a letter to school districts across the country in May saying that under Title IX, which bars discrimination based on gender, schools that receive federal funding must treat transgender students the same as other students of the gender with which they identify.
"A school may provide separate facilities on the basis of sex, but must allow transgender students access to such facilities consistent with their gender identity," the letter says. "A school may not require transgender students to use facilities inconsistent with their gender identity or to use individual-user facilities when other students are not required to do so.
Schools may, however, make individual options available to all students who voluntarily seek additional privacy, the letter says.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Education, given the outline of the Pickens County case as described by law enforcement and the school district, told The Greenville News that the department can't make a determination on whether any school district has violated the federal guidelines without investigating the specific case.
"A finding of compliance or discrimination in violation of the civil rights regulations would be fact-specific, requiring a case-by-case inquiry that (the department's Office of Civil Rights) can only determine by a thorough examination and evaluation of the facts in an OCR investigation of a complaint or compliance review.”
The student had used the boys’ bathroom on the first day of school, Aug. 16, and was asked by Ken Hitchcock, the center director, to use the male faculty/staff restroom, as the student had done the previous school year, according to the incident report.
The next day, Evans confronted deputy Carmen Lehmann, the school resource officer, in the cafeteria and “screamed” at her, “You told me last year that I could use any restroom that I wanted to use,” the report says.
The officer replied that she never told anyone they could use specific restrooms, and the student began to curse her loudly in the crowded cafeteria, the report says.
Lehmann walked away, hoping to de-escalate the situation and asked the school’s behavioral health specialist to escort the student to the office. But the student continued following the deputy, at one point throwing a book bag at the officer, the report says.
“I made it to my office and attempted to shut my office door in the hopes that (the student) would calm down, but (the student) slammed into the door, shoved me and continued to be belligerent,” the report says.
The assistant director of the center and a teacher restrained the student.
Evans was arrested and taken to the Pickens County Detention Center and released the next day on a $2,000 personal recognizance bond, according to the report and court records.
The school district’s policy is to address the transgender bathroom issue on a case-by-case basis, according to spokesman John Eby.
“There are guidelines from the federal Department of Education, but there have been a lot of court cases dealing with those that have sent, I think, kind of contradictory messages,” Eby said. “So we are continuing to monitor that with our attorneys and evolve along with that.”
In April, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over South Carolina, ruled in favor of a transgender student who had sued his school district in Virginia for establishing a policy requiring students to use only the bathroom that corresponds with their gender at birth. The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review the case, USA TODAY reported in October.
However, a federal judge in Texas ruled in August in favor of school districts opposing the federal directive.
South Carolina has joined nine other states in a lawsuit seeking to overturn the federal guidelines.
“President Obama cannot force this unconstitutional mandate on South Carolina schools by allowing Washington bureaucrats to re-write federal law," state Attorney General Alan Wilson said at the time. "By threatening to withhold hundreds of millions of dollars in education funding from our schools, this administration is once again displaying a complete lack of respect for the 10th Amendment, the rule of law and a total disregard for the well-being of our children. This cannot be tolerated."
Pickens County School Board member Henry Wilson said that because of the conflicting court rulings, this issue is "a moving ball" and he supports Superintendent Danny Merck's position of handling cases on an individual basis.
“There’s been transgender people in schools forever, before turned it into a huge political issue," Wilson said. "And what (Merck) told us, and it sounds right to me, is that they’ve been dealing with these issues with patience and privacy and compassion for generations now.”
Eby said the district couldn’t say whether the student was suspended or expelled, or disclose individual student discipline records.
"It has been and will continue to be our practice to work with transgender students and their parents on a case-by-case basis to provide accommodations for their safety, privacy and well-being," the district's statement says. "The right to such accommodations extends to all students."