Student gets apology, SOTA staffers get training on transgender issues

Staff members at Tacoma’s School of the Arts will undergo additional training following an incident involving a transgender student at the school. The school district also offered an apology for what happened and ordered school leaders to do the same.

The incident occurred in late August, as SOTA students attended a school-sponsored overnight camp at Black Lake Camp in Thurston County.

According to reports circulated by students at the time, a transgender female student was denied access to the female cabin and to a gender-neutral cabin. As a result, the student left camp emotionally upset, and students who tried to raise the issue publicly during a camp performance were silenced, according to student reports.

The incident prompted a complaint to the Tacoma School District, where officials investigated.

Following a public records request from The News Tribune, the school district on Wednesday released a letter to the complainant outlining its actions. The name of the person who filed the complaint and other identifying information was blacked out.

According to the letter, the district found that school staff members failed to honor the student’s request for a cabin reassignment and failed to respond appropriately to the student’s complaint of discrimination, and in doing so violated school district policy on gender identity and gender expression.

The district found that staff members failed to respond appropriately to a student’s complaint about discrimination based on gender identity

The student also had complained about staff members not consistently using the student’s terms of choice when addressing the student, but district officials said they did not find sufficient evidence of this.

The district directed SOTA co-principals Jon Ketler and Paul Kelly to offer an apology to the student. It will create training for SOTA staff to learn how to avoid discriminating against students based on gender identity and gender expression.

It also will include reminders to staff that they be mindful of how they address students to be consistent with the student’s gender expression and identity.

The district also pledged to consult with the Oasis Youth Center, a Tacoma organization that works with and for LGBTQ youth.

The letter was signed by Deputy Superintendent Joshua Garcia, who apologized on behalf of the school district.

Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635