Some boys at the high school who saw the selfie, however, were angry and decided they would walk into the girls’ bathroom to take their own Snapchat selfie “as a form of protest,” Fairbanks North Star Borough School District Superintendent Karen Gaborik told The Washington Post.
But they would not get far.
The first boy to enter the girls’ room was met by a girl ― who kneed him in the groin. With that, the “protest” was over.
And now the girl has been expelled, her family told The Post.
The incident has ignited a local controversy as some question why the girl, who was unconnected to the transgender student, has been punished for using “excessive force” and whether the national frenzy over transgender people’s bathroom access in schools fueled the boys’ protest. Gaborik would not confirm whether the girl was expelled, citing student privacy, but said all seven boys involved in the protest were also disciplined for “attempting to enter the girls’ bathroom.”
Scrutiny over the girl’s punishment began Friday when state Rep. Tammie Wilson, a Republican from North Pole, publicly criticized the school’s handling of the case during an unrelated news conference, saying it sent the wrong message to young girls. (Wilson said the girl was “suspended,” which the girl’s older sister corrected in a widely shared tweet.)
“I don’t care why the boys were in the bathroom,” Wilson said. “I just wanted to make sure I had this opportunity to tell those young ladies at North Pole High School . . . if you ever feel threatened for your safety, whatever force you think you have to give, I will stand behind you. And so will your community. Not for those boys who were where they didn’t belong.”
The girl’s family declined an interview with The Post but said they will be seeking an appeal of the expulsion.
Wilson said Friday that she learned about the incident from a constituent and had been in touch with the girl’s family. The Republican lawmaker said the boys were “blocking” the girl from leaving the bathroom. “Was she not supposed to protect herself?” she said in a follow-up interview with the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
She added, “I said, ‘Good for her.’ I would have taught my daughter to do the same.”
The extent of the boy’s injuries are unclear. The Daily News-Miner reported that the boy was referred for medical treatment, although Gaborik could not confirm whether he sought it.
“It wasn’t like a 911 call,” she told the News-Miner. “It was a health aide saying, ‘Hey, you should really go see a doctor.’ ”
Gaborik said that the incident happened amid an ongoing conversation within the school district “regarding transgender students at NPHS and the use of restrooms” — one that has erupted nationwide in recent years with the introduction of “bathroom bills” in state legislatures in North Carolina and Texas.
In Alaska, the debate over transgender people’s access to bathrooms played out most loudly in Anchorage, the state’s largest city, where voters defeated a referendum at the ballot in 2018 that would have required people to use public bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their assigned gender at birth. That regulation would also have applied to schools.
Gaborik said that in her Fairbanks-area school district, which is geographically “larger than the state of Connecticut,” transgender students can choose to use a gender-neutral, single-stall bathroom that corresponds with the student’s gender identity, or the one that corresponds with the student’s gender at birth. The decisions are made on an individual basis for each student based on whatever is most comfortable, she said. At North Pole High School, about 16 transgender students have attended the school in the last three years, she said.
In this case, she said the “group of boys at the school was upset about the public nature of the [transgender student’s Snapchat] post and restroom use.” A Title IX investigation conducted by administrators revealed that when the boys attempted to enter the bathroom, there was “not evidence that the boys were threatening any student or using any type of force toward students,” she said. They retreated right after the first boy was hit, she said.
She added that if students feel threatened in any situation, they’re encouraged to seek out staff, not use violence.
“We do not advocate physical or psychological violence as a means to attain safety,” she said. “The entire school community needs to work together to ensure that all students feel welcomed, safe and are able to learn and thrive. We recognize that parents, students and members of our community feel strongly about these issues, but advocating for the use of violence does not contribute to a safe learning environment.”
Still, some critics wondered whether the boys’ mere presence in the girls’ bathroom, or right outside the door, made the girl feel threatened and justified a split-second decision to use force.
Mikki Kendall, a Chicago-based feminist writer, questioned on Twitter in one widely shared tweet, why after all of the “bathroom panic bills about trans kids, when a group of cis boys actually harass girls in a bathroom the girls are punished for defending themselves?”
Gaborik stressed that all students involved in the incident are entitled to due process and can appeal disciplinary action. The girl’s family said it plans to begin that process Monday.