Salt Lake City School District pauses plan to train all students on what restrooms they can use

A presentation planned for students aimed to instruct kids to use the restroom of the gender they were assigned at birth.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake City School District Superintendent Elizabeth Grant speaks during a board meeting at Glendale Middle School, on Monday, Nov. 20, 2023.

The Salt Lake City School District told parents Friday it would scrap its plan to deliver a presentation to all students about Utah’s new transgender public restroom ban, informing children about which restrooms they could use at school.

The presentation was meant to tell students, “If your sex is designated as this, you go to this bathroom, and designated as that, you go to that bathroom,” Superintendent Elizabeth Grant said at a recent school board meeting.

But a copy shared with parents beforehand apparently did not “acknowledge the existence” of transgender and nonbinary children, prompting blowback from student families, said Emerson Elementary parent Kristen Kinjo.

The district initially planned to share the presentation with students while they were in class — during homeroom or a school’s weekly broadcast, for example — by May 1, the day certain enforcement mechanisms of the law, HB257, will go into effect.

Instead, district officials are now reaching out to impacted families directly to make sure transgender and nonbinary children “have the information they need to create a plan that meets both their student’s needs and the requirements of the law,” according to an email the district sent to parents late Friday afternoon.

If a student is not comfortable in a school restroom that the law requires them to use, the district will help them create a support plan outlined in the district’s G-24 Gender Inclusion policy, Grant said at the board meeting.

“We have students who are going to be placed in very difficult positions by this bathroom bill,” Grant added. “And what our team has done has been sensitive and attentive to the law at the same time.”

‘Lack of clarity’ on how districts should be notifying students

District spokesperson Yándary Chatwin said the district decided to roll back its original plan because of a “lack of clarity” in the law, not parent feedback.

According to the bill’s language, school districts are only required to give notice to students of how the law will work, not necessarily share a presentation like the one the district planned with all children during class.

“We were erring on the side of notifying all students, and some folks were interpreting it differently,” she said. “Our intent has been to follow the laws — to make sure that we’re complying with the requirements of us as a school district.”

Utah State Board of Education spokesperson Ryan Bartlett said in a clarifying statement sent to “education partners” Tuesday that the board “has not provided guidance or direction, nor has USBE been directed by the state Legislature to issue guidance or direction, to [local education agencies, such as school districts] regarding this bill.”

He added that school districts “will determine how best to communicate the requirements listed in the bill to the students and families in their respective communities.”

Bill sponsor Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan, later reiterated USBE’s message in a statement Thursday.

“Recognizing that each school and school district is unique, with unique students, families, and communities, that requirement is left to the determination of [local education agencies], so as long as it is communicated in a common sense, age-appropriate manner that accounts for the needs of all students,” she wrote.

School ‘should be a safe place’

The Salt Lake City School District’s initial plans also changed Friday after the wave of parent feedback, said Kinjo, whose fourth grader goes to Emerson.

“All the parent chats were blowing up,” she said, noting that the district gave parents the choice to opt their children out of the presentations. “Everyone wanted to keep their kids out of this training.”

In response, Kinjo organized a “15-minute dance party” outside of her child’s school on Friday, protesting the new law as well as the school’s planned presentation to students. There, they passed out transgender pride flags, buttons and stickers.

The school had planned to run the district’s K-5 version of the presentation during its morning announcements that day, but pulled it after Grant told all district schools to do so, according to an email Emerson’s principal sent families 35 minutes before the “dance party” and rally.

A copy of the slideshow, which Kinjo shared with The Tribune, stated: “If you were assigned a girl at birth, you need to use the girl’s bathroom ... if you were assigned a boy at birth, you need to use the boy’s bathroom at school.”

Kinjo said her issue with the district’s planned presentation was that it essentially told students they are either a boy or a girl.

“We see that as threatening an already vulnerable population of children, to tell them that they don’t exist in a space that should be a safe place,” Kinjo said.

Grant told The Tribune that she will be working with her team “about what our next steps are” regarding notifying district students of the new law.