Chariho: Law clear about accommodating transgender students

A text message sent from a high school sophomore to her father has caused a battle over bathrooms.

"Are transsexual kids legally allowed in the girls' bathroom? If a guy is changing to a girl, he hasn't gotten surgery yet. I saw him in the bathroom and I don't like him in there," the message read.

Glenn Josephides said his daughter sent him the text message this week after she used the girls' restroom at Chariho High School and saw a transgender student, who identifies as female, using that bathroom as well. He sent an email to the school district, asking them why this was allowed.

Superintendent Barry Ricci said the decision to allow the transgender student to use the bathroom of the gender with which she identifies came down to two things: respect and obeying the law.

"We begin every day of the school year by telling the students at the high school to remember to treat each other with dignity and respect," Ricci said.

Ricci said the district consulted with the state education commissioner and an attorney to figure out how to move forward.

Under Rhode Island law, discrimination based on gender identity is illegal. Ricci tells NBC 10 that, based on that, the solution was clear. The student, who identifies as female, is entitled to use the girls' room.

"We're not naive to think that everyone is going to be totally accepting of this, and that it could cause some discomfort among students," Ricci said.

To make that situation easier, the school has set up a unisex, single-stall bathroom at the high school, which any student is welcome to use if he or she feels uncomfortable.

Josephides tells NBC 10 he is not happy with the solution.

"Not understanding the logic of taking one child, or one person's situation and placing their needs or their feelings or their concerns over 1,200 others," Josephides said.

"This is not about imposing anything," Ricci said. "This is about not discriminating, and treating everyone equally."

NBC 10 asked the state Department of Education if Chariho's decision would hold true for all Rhode Island schools. A representative for the department said a transgender student is entitled to use the bathroom of the gender with which he or she identifies.

Although this is not an official state policy, the state Department of Education says this is how other districts are expected to handle the same situation.