Batavia school board member's Facebook comment after transgender debate called a threat

 
 
Updated 10/6/2018 3:34 PM
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  • Batavia school board member John Dryden.

    Batavia school board member John Dryden.

  • Batavia school board member Tina Bleakley.

    Batavia school board member Tina Bleakley.

  • Batavia school board President Cathy Dremel.

    Batavia school board President Cathy Dremel.

  • Rotolo Middle School in Batavia.

      Rotolo Middle School in Batavia. Rick West | Staff Photographer, 2016

Editor's note: This story has been updated to remove the suggestion that Kelly Sullivan's daughter shares a locker room with a transgender student; her daughter does not use the locker room in the same class period.

A woman says Batavia school board member John Dryden threatened her and other parents with a comment he made about them on his Facebook page.

Kelly Sullivan of Batavia said she filed a police report Wednesday, the day after a school board meeting where she and two other parents criticized how the district handled a situation involving a transgender student's use of the sixth-grade girls locker room and restrooms at Rotolo Middle School.

After the meeting, Dryden posted on Facebook:

"Sometimes School Board meetings are like Mr. Toad's wild ride. (Enjoy it on BATV.) You can watch me try really hard not to launch myself over the table and strangle an anti-transgender lynch mob. The Board Comments at the end are worth listening to. Cheers Batavia -- let's move ahead, not backwards ..."

In an interview, Sullivan said the board was rude to the parents and Dryden's Facebook comment was a threat.

She said she also is afraid because many commenters on Dryden's page accused the parents of bigotry and discrimination.

"I certainly did not threaten anybody," Dryden said Friday. "I cannot and would not."

He stands by his comment. "I watched a lot of people throw a middle school kid under the bus," he said.

He said the parents' comments upset him so much he briefly left the board room. And he reiterated his stance in a statement late Friday afternoon.

"In a disappointing turn of events, their bullying tactics are now directed at me," he wrote. "While I find this sort of thing distasteful, I would much rather their anger and angst be focused on me than directed towards an innocent middle school child."

The speakers at Tuesday's meeting said parents and students should have been told ahead of time that a transgender student -- a boy biologically who identifies as female -- would be using those facilities. Two of the speakers were students.

Sullivan also said the district should consider alternatives. "What's the issue with having a separate changing place for transgender?" Sullivan asked the board.

Another parent said her daughter was scared when she heard a boy's voice in the locker room; she didn't know about transgender people, because the family had not discussed the issue.

Dryden replied that under federal law, transgender students cannot be forced to use separate facilities. He said schools are legally obligated to keep students' identities as private as possible.

He took issue with the parents calling the student "he." "I hope we can respect the person's right to be addressed by their preferred pronoun," Dryden said.

Board member Tina Bleakley didn't like parents talking about the student at a public meeting after they already had spoken with school and district administrators.

"To come publicly to speak about a child disappoints me," she said.

The locker room has three privacy stalls, according to district communications coordinator Sue Gillerlain. There is a single-user women's restroom outside the locker room where girls also can change.

Sullivan said federal law does not require letting the transgender student use the female facilities and other schools have offered a separate facility for transgender students or have curtained off an area of the locker room for students who wish to change in private.

The board's response, she said, indicates it doesn't care for all students' privacy.

But Superintendent Lisa Hichens said the district is following legal advice and its own equal opportunity policy. Privacy laws preclude the district from telling parents or other students personal information about another student, she said.

"We would never discuss personal private information about a student without their permission," Hichens said. "It's the law."

Preparing students in general for the possibility of attending school with a transgender student is "a family conversation," Hichens said. She said the district can provide parents with resources to have that talk.

Gillerlain said the district teaches about the history of lesbian-bisexual-gay-transgender-questioning sexual identity issues, as required by law, in health classes. She did not know at what grade level.

It's not the first time Dryden has been in the spotlight. When he was a social studies teacher at Batavia High School, he was disciplined by the board in 2013 for advising students they had the right not to incriminate themselves while answering a school survey about drug, alcohol and tobacco use, and their emotions. He was ordered to not give students legal advice and to stop being sarcastic and flip with students. He retired a year later and ran for school board in 2015.

Sullivan wrote to the school board Wednesday about Dryden's comment, asking what it would do about it.

Board President Cathy Dremel reiterated that the board believes the district is acting legally and "has no role in monitoring individual member's personal social media or the opinions shared in such a forum."

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