Conway school gender policies get OK, protesters shown door

FILE — This 2015 file photo shows public school buses. (AP Photo/File)
FILE — This 2015 file photo shows public school buses. (AP Photo/File)

Several people were escorted out of the Conway School Board meeting Tuesday night after a unanimous vote to pass policies restricting the use of restrooms by transgender people and governing overnight stays involving transgender students.

Public attendance was high, with nearly every row filled in the Conway High School auditorium.

Immediately after the vote, a group of people sitting in the back of the auditorium rose from their seats carrying transgender flags and chanting, "Shame, shame, shame."

Voices from the crowd urged security to remove the group for interfering with the meeting.

Security personnel calmly followed the group through one aisle as some crowd members who were still seated yelled, "Shame on you, shame on you, shame on you" at the group.

Other portions of the crowd sat silently, watching both sides yell.

The back-and-forth lasted no more than two minutes and came after about an hour of discussion among board members and comments from members of the public.

The two policies -- 4.20 and 4.56.2 -- establish rules based on individuals' original birth certificates, even if they identify differently now.

Policy 4.20 prohibits transgender students and faculty from using the restroom that aligns with the gender they identify as. Under this policy, individuals can access single-use restrooms if they are uncomfortable using multiple-occupancy restrooms.

The other policy will police overnight stays for transgender students, requiring them to stay with students of the sex they were assigned at birth.

The district will provide a single room for any student uncomfortable with the policy.

During a public comment period before the final vote, one woman noted the auditorium did not have one single-use restroom in the building.

She added, "That is not equal access."

State Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, spoke in favor of the two policies.

He encouraged the crowd to remember that God made "males and females" and that people are free to "reject the lies on sex."

Rapert also described the two policies as "common sense."

A series of others thanked the board for proposing the two policies.

One Conway High student spoke against the policies and about their experience as a transgender student.

The student said the nature of the two policies is dehumanizing and further perpetuates a transphobic environment, which they said will "negatively impact academic success."

"And, conveniently, happy National Coming Out Day," the student said.

The board had little to say after the public comments.

Board member Trip Leach said, "As community members, we all have values and life experiences. Sometimes those values and life experiences don't line up and in those instances, we have to find compromise."

Another board member, Jason Sandefer, said he is keeping the suicide rates of transgender individuals in mind and believes that is "a much larger issue than what we're talking about here."

Leach encouraged the crowd to remember that the board is entirely against any bullying of transgender students and will address such scenarios if they occur.

His statement was met with laughter from some people in the crowd.

Board President Andre' Acklin said, "This board is represented by zones, OK? We didn't put ourselves up here. You put us up here."

Acklin added, "What I'm saying is, the will of this board is represented by the will of the community."

The board also responded to questions from the public about why the policies were being adopted 28 days, instead of at least 30 days, after they were first proposed.

A board member said holding policies for the full 30-day period is not law or policy, but merely a practice.

Those who protested after the vote were escorted out, and police took down their names and addresses.

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