Stocker tells Elida school board successors: ‘You have fences to mend’

ELIDA — Former Elida schools board president Brenda Stocker has a message for her successors: “You have fences to mend.”

Stocker addressed board members Tuesday for the first time since she was ousted from her position last year amid backlash to the school district’s accommodations for transgender students, which previously permitted transgender students to use the facilities of their preferred gender identity on a case-by-case basis through the district’s non-discrimination policy.

“Look at how the kids at the center of all this turmoil have been treated,” Stocker said. “These are children in their teenage years. Those years are tough enough as it is, but to handle all of this on top of it.

“As adults we get upset when kids bully kids, but how much worse is it that adults in this room have bullied kids in our district over this matter? You’ve treated them like they aren’t human, and that’s wrong.”

Stocker, who spent 16 years on the school board before she was ousted last November, spoke of the turmoil she and other board members experienced last year as community members questioned the district’s policy — and board members’ faith.

The controversy dominated school board meetings for months as critics feared the policy put female students at risk.

“We explained that these accusations were false, but it didn’t matter,” said Stocker, who warned last year that ignoring federal Title IX case law put Elida schools at risk of a “costly lawsuit” the district would likely lose.

Protests culminated in the election of board members Jeffrey Point, David Peters and Jaired Birks, who used their newfound majority in January to change course by requiring all students to use the restroom of their birth sex or a single-sex restroom.

Superintendent Joel Mengerink told board members on Tuesday that all students have been notified of the new rules in response to a question from Peters about how things were going since the policy took effect last month.

Tuesday’s meeting drew a much smaller crowd than in previous months, with many in the audience applauding as Stocker and others who admonished board members for describing the school district’s legal counsel as “woke.”

“I hope within the last month that members of this board of education have discovered how irresponsible it is to refer to various legal counsel as woke,” Bill Kellermeyer said, adding: “It is not their job to tell their clients what they want to hear and advancing the personal political agenda of the district’s school board members.”

Former Elida Mayor Claude Paxton, who previously spoke out in support of critics of the district’s former policy, similarly chastised board members for using the word “woke” to describe legal counsel.

“The anger and distrust of the last meeting is disrupting the cause you’re trying to serve … I’m hoping that that’s going to be a one-time aberration,” Paxton said.

Board members showed restraint Tuesday compared to January’s lively meeting, which saw discord between new and long-time board members regarding legal representation, open enrollment, the superintendent’s spending authority and a last-minute addition to the agenda proposing new restrictions on restroom and locker room access.

The restroom policy, which requires all students to use facilities of their birth sex or a single-use family restroom, passed 3-2 last month.

The policy faces uncertain legal terrain.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal last month from an Indiana school district that enacted similar restroom restrictions, upholding a 7th District opinion granting a transgender boy access to the boys’ restroom.

Meanwhile, a federal appeals court declined to hear a case challenging an Oklahoma law requiring students to use the restroom of their birth sex.

Similar legislation introduced in the Ohio House last year has received five hearings but has not advanced out of the Higher Education Committee.

“This is going to be a long process,” said board member Jeff Christoff, who acts as the board’s legislative liaison.