A school district in southern Oklahoma was forced to shut down for two days after parents used a Facebook group to threaten violence against a transgender seventh-grade student.
Superintendent Rick Beene closed Achille Public Schools on Monday and Tuesday after parents posted claims on a Facebook group “Achille ISD Parents Group” that the student, who identifies as a girl, was looking over the stalls in the girls’ bathroom.
“Heads up parents of 5th through 7th grade,” parent Jamie Crenshaw said in a now-deleted post. “The transgender is already using the girls bathroom. We have been told how the school has gone above and beyond to make sure he has his own restroom yet he is still using the girls. REALLY… Looks like its going to be a long year.”
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Beene would not confirm whether the alleged bathroom incident occurred.
The post set off reactions from other adults who referred to the 7th grade student as “this thing” and “half baked maggot.” One parent repeatedly referred to the student as “he” and suggested a “good sharp knife” stop the student. Another parent said that their child should “whip his ass until he quits coming to school.”
Beene tells TIME he made the decision to close both the elementary schools, which houses kindergarten through eighth grade, and the high school on the advice of local law enforcement.
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LGBTQ rights supporters were planning a demonstration at the school and police believed it would be safer to close the district — which has 400 students — because of the possibility of counter-protestors, Beene says.
The school will reopen Wednesday with police on campus.
Bryan County Sheriff Johnny Christian says deputies are currently investigating the Facebook posts and could file charges. He says most of the responses were from parents outside the Achille area — some even from out of state.
He says the transgender student’s family has a protective order against the parent who made the comment about using a knife.
“The main thing is the kids feel safe,” Christian says. “This is an unfortunate incident, we have an amazing county and we all take of each other.”
Bathrooms have long been a flashpoint in the fight for LGBTQ rights – and recently became a hot-button political issue as several states debated bills restricting transgender people from using the bathroom of their gender identity. Transgender teen Gavin Grimm’s battle to use the boy’s bathroom at his Virginia school gained national attention.
In January, an Oklahoma state lawmaker introduced a “bathroom bill” that critics said would have restricted the rights of transgender people to use the bathroom of their gender identity, but the bill never came up for a vote.
Sara Cunningham, executive director of LGBTQ support non- profit, Free Mom Hugs, wrote a letter of support to the transgender student and condemned the Facebook threats from parents. Cunningham offered to help train staff and students at the school and offered counseling to the transgender student.
“We have seen the post involving parents from your school district and are more than disheartened,” Cunningham said in her letter. “But, we, in our experience have seen that so much hate and and abuse stems from fear and ignorance. The tragedy is, this level of emotional torture and and threats of violence from adults will undoubtably lead to depression, mental illness and the prompting of suicidal thoughts. Please let us know how we can be of assistance, the time is now to say enough is enough.”
Achille is a town of 492 people about 90 miles north of Dallas.
Beene says he has spoken to several LGBTQ organizations that have reached out and plans to take them up on their offers of training the staff.
Beene says the controversy over the Facebook page, which is not officially associated with the school district, does not not represent school’s mentality toward LBGTQ students. He says teachers and administrators are working hard to make sure the student feels comfortable and to ensure she is not threatened again.
“Our school administration takes the safety of students seriously,” Beene says. “Private discussions on social media does not represent our school and administration. Our school believes everyone should receive safe and free education.”