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Randolph holds community forum following high school locker room incident

Darren Marcy, courtesy The Herald
Classmates, community members and parents gathered last week in the high school auditorium in Randolph to discuss a recent incident involving a trans student-athlete using the locker room. Her right to do so is protected by law in Vermont. After the incident became first local then national news, the school's website was vandalized and its voice message service flooded with threats of violence. Members of the community came together to voice their support for the student and share their concerns for how the school handled the situation.

In Randolph, students, staff and other community members are grappling with how to move forward after the community of nearly 5,000 received national attention.

That's after a local media outlet reported on a 14-year-old Randolph Union High School trans student and her use of the girls' locker room.

In the story, which has since been retracted, it was reported that some fellow teammates were uncomfortable with her being in the locker room and asked her to leave, which she did. The trans student's mother denied that characterization of the incident.

The story hit the national media. And the school's web page and voicemail box were flooded with comments and threats, which the FBI is now investigating.

On Tuesday, over 300 gathered in the high school auditorium to discuss the incident. The Herald reporter Darren Marcy was there, and broke down what happened for Vermont Public's Mary Williams Engisch. Their conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Mary Williams Engisch: Darren, you wrote in The Herald that the discussion last Tuesday was mostly civil. I understand Layne Millington was there; he's the superintendent of the Orange Southwest Supervisory District opened the meeting. What did he share?

He basically wanted to, in his words, set the record straight. He said there had been a lot of misinformation and rumors spreading. He shared some of the social media posts that had forced the school to lock down social media and the website had been hacked.

He shared a screenshot of that, which is profane and can't be repeated here. But it did use a transphobic, profane slur. And he shared some of the voicemails that the school had received, which, to call them vile and disgusting would be an understatement. They were profane and violent and threatening, all of the above.

It was some bad stuff. And he basically wanted to let folks know that some of what they had heard may not be exactly true. There had been rumors of what this young student had done when she entered the locker room that he said did not happen and that she had walked in and been told to leave, turned around and left. Just that simple. And some of the other things that people were hearing weren't exactly true. But it was a good night of information sharing and respect from the audience.

And what can you share about what the school's policy and the state's policies are on trans youth and access to places like locker rooms, bathrooms, things like that?

Yeah, that's protected by law — that this young lady has every right to be in this locker room. She has the right by law to use that facility. And the other students also have a right to not necessarily want to share that space. And the schools have done what they can to provide equal access to other spaces.

I spoke with a captain of the volleyball team, Lily Patton. And she says that it really wasn't that big of a deal. There were a few students on the team that weren't real thrilled with this young lady being there. But most of the team was fine and supportive. And they've been playing volleyball together.

During this community meeting, you wrote that many people walked up to the microphone, they shared their thoughts, their concerns. Some were students, some were parents, other adults in the community. Even some of them talked about their own experiences with things like bullying. Others talked about their beliefs on gender and gender identity.

Can you share some vocal opposition that you heard at this community meeting?

I would say the most vocal was a the former reverend of a local church, Ron Rilling. And he was the first person to speak and he was shaking, he was so upset. It's one of the interesting things about this, most people weren't speaking out against the trans student. They were upset with the way the school had handled it.

He repeatedly told Superintendent Millington that he was failing their children. He repeatedly said, "Shame on you, you know, shame on you, Superintendent Millington," for the way he had handled this. And he felt he was not protecting the girls. And that was what several other speakers said. That the school was not protecting the girls and their privacy, by allowing this trans student into that locker room.

They felt that this was an invasion of the other teammates' privacy. And there were some concerns expressed about the legitimacy of transgender people in general. One young man just flat out said, "A woman cannot become a man. A man cannot become a woman, period." And things like that, which, you know, of course, science doesn't exactly agree with them.

What is the plan going forward? Will there be another community meeting, and and how does the school move on from this while trying to create a safe environment for all its students?

That's going to be a real challenge. There's a lot of animosity in the community. There's even animosity within the school. There's a lot of emotion here. There's some politics. There's some base emotional opposition to what's going on. And folks are upset. They're angry. And it's really created a divide in the community and in the school. Several students said this is just upsetting our school.

The impact to the students who aren't even involved is pretty great. And several of them said, you know, "Can we can we just figure out a way to get past this and get along and kind of return to normal?" So where it goes from here, I'm not really sure what the school's next move is going to be.

You know, the volleyball team apparently is continuing to play games. (Team captain) Patton said that their season is continuing and that I think, the locker room may be a little bit uneasy right now because they are even split on the volleyball team to some degree.

Probably the most emotional, impactful moment of the night: when a 17- or 18-year-old young lady — she's a senior in high school — she went to the mic and she just said, "Look, folks, you need to remember we're kids." And the audience was verbally supportive. When she was done, she walked quickly to a her seat and basically collapsed into tears. And the place gave her a standing ovation. It was a very emotional moment.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or tweet us @vermontedition.

Mary Williams Engisch is a local host on All Things Considered, Weekend Edition Saturday and Weekend Edition Sunday.
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