Caldwell trustees delay action on controversial gender rights policy

As Idaho lawmakers weigh in on the issue, the Caldwell School Board hit pause on a proposed school policy that allows students to use a bathroom or locker room that aligns with their gender identity.

But Monday’s announcement did not tamp down the community’s desire to voice opposition.

Caldwell Superintendent Shalene French told the 70 people filling Monday’s boardroom that the district wanted public input on the policy, but said the proposed legislation might provide more guidance — so it’s time to pause.

A capacity crowd of 70 people waited for their turn to speak to trustees during Monday’s meeting. Photo by Darren Svan

French and the five-member board still got an earful from a capacity audience of Caldwell parents, business leaders, grandparents and retired educators.

At the Statehouse, the Senate Education Committee introduced a bill Monday to require schools to maintain separate bathrooms, locker rooms, showers, dressing rooms and overnight accommodations on the basis of biological sex. The bill will next be considered in full committee hearings.

The legislation would “deal with this issue that you guys have been wrestling with as a school board,” Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, told trustees Monday. 

Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa

Click here for a copy of the bill.

School boards statewide are struggling with this issue, Crane told the audience, so lawmakers felt they should provide clarity and parameters. He predicted the bill will pass the Senate and House, “and then (go) on to the governor’s desk for signature.”

According to the Idaho School Boards Association, this policy or something similar has been approved in about a third (60) of Idaho’s school districts and charters. Meanwhile, Attorney General Raul Labrador has stepped into the conversation and has questioned the legality of what he called a “dangerous” LGBTQ+ rights policy.

“This proposed policy appears to violate Idaho law. My office is taking a serious look at how we can defend Idaho parents, kids, and our existing laws should the Caldwell school board choose to adopt this policy.” Labrador said on social media and further detailed his concerns in a letter to Misty Swanson, the executive director of the ISBA.

Unlike January, when a heated Caldwell board meeting was called to an early end, trustees heard from impassioned local citizens unanimously voicing their opposition to the policy. 

They spoke out against disciplining teachers who violate the policy, creating an inappropriate experience for young girls in bathrooms and locker rooms, wasting educational time on this issue and usurping parental rights.

The following statements are examples of more than a dozen people who spoke to the board Monday. Trustees listened intently. Trustees and presenters spoke calmly, and in many cases the speakers offered pleasantries and “thank yous” to the board, and trustees reciprocated.

  • “You work for parents who send their children to school to learn subjects useful to further their ambitions in a job or career. They are not there to learn attitudes that may contradict what their parents teach them.”
  • “So, as I said, my voice tonight is for the ones that cannot speak for themselves. What are you guys trying to portray with this proposal? The policy 3281 is a violation of the rights of the ones that want to live normal.”
  • “The biggest opposition I have is the secrecy from parents. We are supposed to be in this together. I think some parents need to stand up, participate in their children’s education, and we wouldn’t be here at this point.”
  • “The First Amendment protects us from compulsory speech and the great teachers and staff of public school districts should not be forced to use names and pronouns that are not on a student’s legal documentation. The First Amendment protects us from compelled speech and we cannot yield to pressure from those claiming to be victims of hate speech if their preferred names and pronouns are not used. This is an excuse to control our language and for validation of their feelings. I am not opposed to kindness, courtesy and respect for all, but I am strongly opposed to policies that violate freedom of speech.”
  • “I oppose a student choosing which locker room and restroom they want to use based on their gender identity, gender expression. Should any student — transgender, non-binary or others – ask for any exceptions, they should be allowed to access a private restroom or changing area where they can change alone, and not have to be in the presence of other students or be allowed to use the restroom or locker. Under no circumstances is it appropriate to have biological females and males sharing restrooms and locker rooms, regardless of a student’s gender identity and gender expression. Our bodies are sacred.”
Parents, grandparents and concerned citizens stood in line Monday for a chance to comment during the Caldwell School Board meeting. A controversial gender rights policy was on the agenda for the second time this year. Photo by Darren Svan

Waiting outside for hours

More than a 100 Caldwell residents waited hours in the cold and intermittent snowfall to attend Monday’s meeting. Many were turned away, because only the first 67 people in line got in.

Standing in a line under umbrellas and in winter coats, their criticisms and frustrations were aimed at two issues: the policy and the process.

Given the large number of people interested in attending, one man said they should move the meeting to a larger building. He joked that a new college course should be created called “common sense.”

A parent support advocate walked around trying to ensure Caldwell parents were given an opportunity to speak during the meeting.

Kayla Dunn said they want to teach parents how to engage with the school board. “But more importantly, today what we wanted to do was make sure their voices were heard.”

Someone in line expressed disappointment that schools and teachers are being asked to exclude parents. Another parent also said he wanted to be more aware about the things going on in schools and hoped to have an opportunity to share his opinions.

Private security helped organize the large number of people trying to attend Monday’s school board meeting, and law enforcement personnel were on-site too. Photo by Darren Svan

Both in the line and inside the boardroom, one man was vocal about his opposition to the media taking up space that should have been given to Caldwell parents. There were three news organizations inside the meeting and one other filming outside.

A copy of the Caldwell School District’s proposed policy 3281 can be found here. Trustees did not mention when the policy would next be placed on the board’s agenda. 


Darren Svan

Darren Svan

Reporter Darren Svan has a background in both journalism and education. Prior to working for military schools at overseas installations, he was news editor at several publications in Wyoming and Colorado. You can send news tips to [email protected].

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