Arizona’s Top Charter Schools Allowing Boys Into Girls’ Bathrooms, Parents Not Notified

Arizona’s Top Charter Schools Allowing Boys Into Girls’ Bathrooms, Parents Not Notified

By Corinne Murdock |

One of Arizona’s top charter school chains, Legacy Traditional Schools (LTS), began allowing boys into girls’ bathrooms this semester under its new “Title IX Gender Identity Policy” — and didn’t notify parents. 

AZ Free News spoke to some of the families impacted: several said they’ve pulled their children out of safety concerns, while others are seeking accommodations. Despite the ongoing controversy over their updated policy to accommodate gender identity, LTS canceled its August 25 board meeting. They claimed that there was “no new business requiring board attention.”

Vertex Education, the education management company behind LTS, discussed and shared their updated Title IX policy with AZ Free News. It appears from what Vertex Education spokesman Sean Amir shared that LTS made the policy change to align with anticipated changes to Title IX under the Biden administration. Amir added that LTS didn’t include their new Title IX Gender Identity Policy in their parent handbook because it was part of their internal documents.

“As a public charter school, Legacy must abide by all state and federal laws. Likewise, it does not discriminate against any student. Our notice of non-discrimination in the Parent/Student Handbook (page 38) is available on our website, and provides the federal statement as mandated by law,” wrote Amir. “The school’s internal documents describe how to carry out what Title IX sets forth, and are made available upon request.”

Vertex Education didn’t answer our questions about the lack of notification to parents about the policy update, nor did they answer as to whether community backlash prompted LTS to cancel its last board meeting. 

The company also didn’t answer whether their leadership discussed the high school sexual assault that made international headlines last fall and moved deep-blue Virginia to vote for a Republican governor for the first time in nearly a decade. In that case, a high school boy wearing a skirt sexually assaulted a freshman girl in the girls’ bathroom.

One LTS mother, Jennifer Leslie, shared with AZ Free News that they learned about LTS’ gender identity policy the week of August 2, when school started. Another parent’s child reportedly came home saying that a middle-school boy attended school dressed up as a girl and wearing a wig, and that he was uncomfortable with what he saw.

“They normally blast out so many emails about changes. Not once was this mentioned,” said Leslie. “It’s just disheartening. I don’t have a better way to explain it. I just wish there was more transparency. They could’ve handled this so much better.”

According to Leslie, LTS claimed that the gender identity policy has been in place since 2015. The Google Doc version of the policy we reviewed, supplied by Vertex Education, was created July 28. The company’s spokesman also didn’t mention the age of the policy. Leslie also shared that many LTS staff were unaware of the policy’s existence.

In addition to allowing students to use restrooms and locker rooms designated for the opposite sex, the LTS gender identity policy directs parents to coordinate a gender transition plan with their school principal and administrators. 

As part of this plan, students may adhere to the opposite sex’s dress code, staff must use the student’s preferred names and pronouns, students may participate in sports designated for the opposite sex (unless prohibited by the Canyon Athletic Association), and staff may communicate a student’s gender transition to other students. However, LTS won’t voluntarily disclose to families whether any of their children’s peers are transitioning genders.

Leslie noted that she pulled her two children from LTS due to the policy and the administration’s subsequent unwillingness to accommodate them. Leslie described the ordeal as overwhelming.

“They were not very receptive at all. We first asked for our girls to use a single user restroom. We asked if they could use a health restroom. They said no, that is for children with special needs or kids who have a 504 plan,” shared Leslie. “The only option was, the girls had to use the bathroom with the other individual who is transitioning into a girl and allow him into that same bathroom. All kids deserve safety. The concern is boys being in the girls’ bathroom.”

Leslie said that her children miss their friends, having attended LTS since kindergarten, but that the change was for the best. While her eldest was admitted into another school, the youngest is on a waitlist and attending an online program.

“It’s disheartening and disappointing,” said Leslie. “It’s not even the teachers [who are to blame], it’s not even the administration. It’s the managing company of Legacy Traditional Schools, which is Vertex Education.”

Another mother, Diana Fitzgerald, shared that she also learned about the policy change from another parent and not LTS. Fitzgerald’s child attends a different campus from where the incident occurred.

Fitzgerald said the new policy alarmed her, prompting her to request an accommodation for a single-stall restroom. Since parents may never be informed about the presence of a transgender student on campus, Fitzgerald secured a precaution for her daughter. She said the whole ordeal was a disheartening travesty. 

“I’m concerned about the gender identity issue. It does create a head-on collision with parental rights. I’m grateful I was made aware of this,” said Fitzgerald. “That’s all any parent wants is transparency so they can feel safe that their children are in a healthy learning environment.”

Another longtime LTS mother, Jacqueline Parker, said that she also pulled her three children from their schools over the policy. She said that the concerns posed by her and others over the new policy were largely dismissed by LTS, which she said was “extremely frustrating” and caused her to believe that her family was nothing more than a dollar sign for funding.

Though it’s been over a month, Parker informed AZ Free News that LTS still hadn’t supplied a copy of the gender identity policy to her.

“Multiple parents have emailed the district office to get clarification on how each campus is to handle this situation. The verdict is that our children would be the ones singled out, by us as parents filling out a form to allow them to use a grown-up bathroom,” said Parker.

Parker shared that LTS sent out multiple emails for a variety of other topics, such as COVID-19 mitigation plans and a new math curriculum, but chose not to disclose its gender identity policy.

“The safety of our children has been put in jeopardy and there was not one email or communication of any sort to inform parents of such a big change. The lack of transparency about this policy is unacceptable,” said Parker. “Not only were we concerned about the safety of our children but also truly disheartened that Legacy, whom we held to such high standards of morals and values, would conform to such an unconservative policy.”

Since its inception in 1972, Title IX protections prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex. In July, the Department of Education (DOE) notified Americans that it would extend Title IX protections to ban discriminations on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The deadline for public comment on the potential new Title IX protections is next Monday, September 12. As of press time, there were over 152,900 comments on the proposed changes, with just over 48,000 available for review. 

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

University of Arizona Swim Teams, Coaches Criticize NCAA Over Lia Thomas

University of Arizona Swim Teams, Coaches Criticize NCAA Over Lia Thomas

By Corinne Murdock |

In a joint letter last week to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), University of Arizona (UArizona) current and alumnae swimmers and coaches criticized the decision to allow transgender University of Pennsylvania (Penn) swimmer Lia (née William) Thomas to compete in the Division 1 national championships. The UArizona group asserted that the NCAA “failed everyone” by trying to “appease everyone,” insisting that Thomas worked against the equality of women in sports enshrined by Title IX.

“We are celebrating the 50th anniversary of Title IX this year. From the birth of the NCAA in 1906 until 1972, women had to fight to earn the law that provided equal opportunities for women in sports. It took a male to female transgender person one year to take the women’s swimming national championship title,” wrote the group. “This is not equality. Women’s standings, titles, records, and scholarships are suddenly at risk again. Opening the door to allowing natural born men to acquire precious, life altering financial aid packages often split up between multiple women per team defeats the very essence of the flagship legislation we are ironically celebrating this very year.”

The swimmers and coaches also noted that the UArizona Athletics Director, Associate AD for Diversity, and Senior Women’s Advocate remained silent on the issue of transgender women — men — in women’s sports.

Thomas won the 500 freestyle race, but lost in the 200 and 100 freestyle races; however, Thomas reportedly has lost races intentionally in the recent past. Teammates who reported his intentional losses claimed that he was trying to prove that males don’t have biological advantages to females, observing that it was clear Thomas wasn’t trying. They speculated that Thomas colluded with a transgender male swimmer from Yale University, Iszac Henig, so Henig would beat Thomas and make it appear as though women could outperform men. 

“Looking at [Thomas’] time, I don’t think [Thomas] was trying,” the Penn swimmer alleges. “I know [Thomas and Henig are] friends and I know they were talking before the meet. I think [Thomas] let her win to prove the point that, ‘Oh see, a female-to-male beat me.’”

The UArizona swimmers credited their decision to submit their letter based on a letter submitted by University of Texas (UT) alumnae and coaches a week prior. Among those on the UT letter were Olympians and UT Hall of Honor inductees, as well as pro golfer and UT Hall of Honor inductee Cindy Figg-Currier. 

The letter, first published in Swimming World Magazine, is reproduced in full below:

Dear NCAA Board of Governors,

Do we have a voice?

It’s hard to express the anguish the women’s swim community has experienced this past week watching the 2022 NCAA Swim & Dive Championships. On one hand, we feel we are witnessing irrevocable damage to a sport that has transformed our own identities for the better. On the other, we have reconnected with each other in sisterhood after many busy years living our lives beyond the water’s edge. We are grateful for the many women who have stood up to publicly speak up in protest of your policies including UT’s swim alumni who penned a thoughtful letter to their Athletic Director and inspired us to write from the University of Arizona alumni perspective. We have collected some of our own thoughts on paper to plead to swimming leadership at every level to take immediate action to protect our women athletes.

In 2008, USA Swimming chief Chuck Wielgus was asked to comment on a “culture of fair play” regarding a female swimmer who had tested positive for a banned anabolic agent called Clenbuterol. He claimed at the time “within the culture of swimming, if you’re doing something you shouldn’t be doing, we want to catch you and throw you out of the sport. In other sports, it’s about excuses and justifications and being innocent until you’re proven guilty.” According to the USADA website, Clenbuterol is prohibited in sport because it “promotes muscle growth through anabolic properties.” The Mayo Clinic reports “the main anabolic steroid hormone produced by the body is testosterone” and that it “has anabolic effects promoting muscle building.” In a little over a decade, USA Swimming, the leading organization of swimming in the world has surrendered its firm stance on fair play. This has encouraged other organizations such as the NCAA to make accommodations for biological men who have had the benefits of testosterone throughout natural development and beyond.

According to Duke’s Center for Sports Law and Policy, “there is an average 10-12% performance gap between elite males and elite females” in sport. What advantage does testosterone have for natural born men in swimming specifically? This year in the 500 freestyle the men’s A standard qualifying time is 4:11.62. The women’s A standard qualifying time was 4:35.76. That is a difference of 24.14 seconds. To put that into perspective, the male swimmer in the last seed going into the meet would be two full laps ahead of his female counterpart in this event. This one example alone demonstrates the advantages a biologically male swimmer has over a female. Physiological advantages exist.

Looking back on another moment in swim history, in 2010 FINA banned the use of high tech performance swim suits as the “shiny suit era” saw “records falling at an alarming rate” due to a competitive advantage given to swimmers who had the suits available to them. This year at the fastest short course swim meet in the world, the body inside the suit is what raises cause for concern.

The decisions of the NCAA this year hoped to appease everyone by allowing Lia Thomas to compete directly with women. Instead, the NCAA has successfully failed everyone. A target was placed on the back of a trans athlete subjecting this person to devastating national outcry and humiliation. This swimmer’s lone points for Penn this March catapulted a team to a top-20 program in the country after failing to score a single point last year. Additionally, women athletes competing in the meet were forced to swim in unfair direct competition therefore eliminating all integrity of the entire championship meet.

We are celebrating the 50th anniversary of Title IX this year. From the birth of the NCAA in 1906 until 1972, women had to fight to earn the law that provided equal opportunities for women in sports. It took a male to female transgender person one year to take the women’s swimming national championship title. This is not equality. Women’s standings, titles, records, and scholarships are suddenly at risk again. Opening the door to allowing natural born men to acquire precious, life altering financial aid packages often split up between multiple women per team defeats the very essence of the flagship legislation we are ironically celebrating this very year.

Female to male transgender athletes do not have the same opportunities as their male to female counterparts. They are heavily disadvantaged when it comes to earning a spot on the team they identify due to strength and speed differences between gender categories. This was represented this year in the 100 freestyle by Yale’s Iszac Henig, a transgender male competing at the women’s championship. This swimmer placed fifth in the event. Henig’s time of 47.52 earned the swimmer an All-American award and added 13.5 points to Yale’s team score. Had Henig chosen to swim at the men’s competition however, the same time would have failed to even reach the men’s A qualifying time of 41.71 by almost six seconds dashing the whisper of a chance this swimmer would even step up to the block.

There were many options the NCAA could have implemented to create a fair environment for women competitors. A trans athlete could compete in the meet that aligns with birth gender such as Henig did. At the championship level, there are 10 lanes available in the pool while only 8 swimmers compete per heat. Therefore, a trans athlete could have been added to any finals heat in addition to the 16 women who qualified without pushing any of the deserving women out of the finals such as VT’s Reka Gyorgy , who personally spoke out about the inequality she was subjected to being shut out of the finals. Trans specific heats with separate awards categories and scoring was another alternative. The NCAA could have implemented the more stringent USA Swimming guidelines at the very least. Moving forward, trans swim meets could be organized and built into a new category of athletic competition similar to the Paralympic or Special Olympic platforms to continue to widen the umbrella of inclusion in athletics.

We are writing this letter to the NCAA who has a President at the helm responsible for cutting both the University of Washington’s swimming programs in 2009. Mr. Emmert stood firmly by his decisions as “the right ones for us.” The NCAA Board of Governors is predominantly men. Of the 65 Athletic Directors in the Power 5, only 5 are women. At the University of Arizona, our Athletics Director, Associate AD for Diversity, and Senior Women’s Advocate have remained silent on this issue unfolding over the course of this entire season. These revelations and disparities alarm us when it seems there was no urgency in skillfully and educationally addressing how the scientific and biologic differences may impact women’s competitions. Do we have a voice? The people responsible for protecting women’s swimming should swiftly rectify the guidelines. The women from the University of Arizona will not quietly stand down while our victories and accomplishments float away.

We are eager and willing to discuss directly with the NCAA potential steps it can implement to create new solutions for the expanding athletic family. Please contact us with your next steps towards a fairer future.

Respectfully,

The Women of Arizona Swimming & Diving

info@womenfins.com

Marshi Smith (02-06) NCAA Champion

Frank Busch 6-Time NCAA Coach of the Year for the University of Arizona (11-17) USA Swimming National Team Director

2008 National Championship Team Members:

Lacey Nymeyer-John (04-08) NCAA Woman of the Year, NCAA Champion, Olympic Medalist

Brandy Collins Maben (04-08) Team Captain

Lindsey Kelly (05-09) NCAA All-American

Taylor Baughman (05-09) NCAA All-American, Team Captain

Caroline Rollins (05-09) Team Manager

Lara Jackson (06-09) NCAA Champion, American Record Holder

Annie Chandler (06-10) NCAA Woman of the Year Finalist

Caitlin Iversen (06-10) NCAA All-American

Carley Beaudreau (06-10) NCAA All-American

Dana Christ (07-11) NCAA All-American

Susana Starbuck (07-11) Team Captain

Lindsey Farella (97-02) NCAA Champion, Team Captain

Julie Manitt Andrew (99-03) NCAA All-American

Jenna Gresdal Davis (02-06) Olympian, NCAA Champion

Lisa Pursley Ebeling (02-06) NCAA All-American, Current Head Coach UNC

Katie Willis (02-06) NCAA All-American

Ryann Hackett (02-06) NCAA All-American Honorable Mention

Danielle Erickson (05-06) Big-12 Conference Finalist (Nebraska)

Emily Strouse (03-07) Olympic Trial Qualifier, Pac-10 Team Champion

Kathryn Elofson (03-07) Pac-10 Champion

Whitney Myers (03-07) NCAA Woman of the Year, 5x NCAA Champion

Julie Stupp (08-09) NCAA Runner up, 2x Team Champion (Auburn)

Grace Kittle (07-12) NCAA All-American

Andrea Smith (08-13) Team Manager

Monica Refsnyder (09-13) NCAA All-American, American Record Holder

Ellyn Baumgardner (09-13) NCAA All-American, Team Captain

Aubrey Peacock (10-12) NCAA All-American

Megan Lafferty (12-13) American Record Holder, Pac-12 Champion

Alana Pazevic (12-14) NCAA All-American, Pac-12 Champion

Elizabeth Pepper (13-15) NCAA All-American

Bonnie Brandon (12-16) NCAA All-American

Emma Schoettmer (12-16) NCAA All-American

Alexandra Martelle (14-18) Pac-12 Finalist

Mackenzie Rumrill (15-19) NCAA Woman of the Year Nominee, NCAA All-American

Mallory Korenwinder (16-20) NCAA All-American

Dennis Pursley (89-03) USA Swimming Team Director 5x Olympic Coach, ASCA Hall of Fame Inductee

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.