Harrison said the Wake County Public School System has no clear policy on transgender students’ use of bathrooms and locker rooms, which has caused confusion and alarm among parents.
“As the parent of an 11, 12, 13, 14-year-old female, I would want to know if a transgender student was dressing out (in the girls’ locker room),” Harrison said. “That way I could explain to my child what was going on and make a decision.”
Harrison said a deputy was told by a parent that a transgender female student was using the girls’ locker room, and because of varied district policies, the deputy was unsure of what to do.
Lisa Luten, Wake County Public School System spokesperson, said in a statement that transgender students’ access to bathrooms and locker rooms is handled on a case-by-case basis.
“No child has ever been at risk based on how we have handled this issue,” she said. “Because this issue is still being debated in federal courts, the school system is unable to create a formal policy.”
Wake County Public School System Superintendent James Merrill said in a memo that bathroom policy questions should be addressed by administrators, not student resource officers.
Harrison said sheriff’s deputies work as school resource officers in 20 of the 171 schools in the district.
Harrison, a Republican, said his actions were not politically motivated.
“To say it’s politics, that’s just an out-and-out lie,” he said. “I just think the parents should know.”
Since House Bill 2 was signed into law, many schools have faced challenges complying with both state and federal laws, said Maxine Eichner, a UNC law professor.
She said HB2 requires students to use the bathroom of their biological gender, while Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex — leaving N.C. public schools to decide how to balance the two laws.
“Since HB2 was passed, these schools have been between a rock and a hard place,” Eichner said.
This means many schools provide bathroom and locker room access on a case-by-case basis and therefore, conflicting information abounds, said Nathan Smith, the director of public policy for the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network.
“Not having a uniform policy across districts, states or the country doesn’t provide transgender students with a foundation for them to understand what their rights are,” he said.
Smith said this is the first time he’s heard of law enforcement deciding to leave a school over this type of issue.
And while Harrison said he is serious about removing his deputies, he would explore options to replace them in the affected schools.
“If I feel like the school board’s not willing to work with me, it’s going to cause some animosity there,” he said. “But I would never leave a school unsafe.”
Smith said he thinks this is a political situation and he hopes a policy will be developed that is fair to students.
“Ultimately what we’re talking about is teenagers who really just want to go about using the bathroom, changing their clothes and getting on with their day,” he said.