Bethel superintendent resigning at end of contract

EDITOR’S NOTE: The emphasis placed on words that are in all capital letters are not added and come from the source document.

By Jordan Green

[email protected]

BETHEL TOWNSHIP — The Bethel Board of Education accepted the resignation of Superintendent Justin Firks at a special meeting on Friday, May 20.

Firks stated in his letter of resignation, “It has been a priority over the last seven years as a Superintendent of Schools to make decisions that are in the best interest of students and staff. Being a Superintendent, historically, has been seen as a profession of SACRIFICE. However, sacrificing health, family, dignity and your professional reputation should NOT be part of the job.”

Firks’ resignation will come into effect at the end of his current contract year on July 31, 2022.

He went on to state that he wishes “the administrative team and the classified and certified staff continued success as they chart a path of high academic outcomes for all of the students of Bethel Local Schools. The district has experienced much success over the last three years and I am proud of our accomplishments academically, with facilities, financially and with the mending of relationships between the staff and the administrative team during my tenure.”

While Firks declined to comment further on his resignation, the move comes as the Bethel school district has been dealing with controversy regarding restroom accommodations in recent months.

In January, a transgender student in the Bethel School District was permitted to use the restroom and locker room facilities aligning with their gender identity. This change came after a request was made on behalf of a student who previously had other arrangements with the district for the use of these facilities.

A Frequently Asked Questions page on the district’s website asserts, “The Bethel Local School District Board of Education has had policies pertaining to sex/gender discrimination and sexual harassment for years. A new policy is not necessary nor appropriate.”

The accommodations made for the student were in line with district policy, which is outlined in the FAQ page saying, “When the parent of a transgender student, or a transgender student, requests accommodations, the building administrator will meet with the parent, student and any other individuals with relevant information. The team will discuss the requested accommodations, the consistency and uniformity of the asserted gender identity and any supports needed to ensure equal access to and equal opportunity to participate in the District’s education and co-curricular programs.”

Also noting that, “Restroom accommodations will only be made for a transgender student who consistently and uniformly asserts a gender identity different from the student’s sex assigned at birth, or for which there is documented legal or medical evidence that the gender identity is sincerely held as part of the student’s core identity.”

This policy is in line with federal guidelines on the matter and is addressed in the FAQ. The U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Department of Education, and the Office for Civil Rights assert, “under Title IX, transgender students should be treated consistent with their gender identity for restroom access. Failure to follow these interpretations by OCR and DOJ risks protracted litigation and potential loss of federal funding.”

Furthermore, in a 2016 case, Board of Education of Highland School District v. United States Department of Education, et al, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Southern District of Ohio held that, “Title IX requires federally funded schools to permit transgender students to use the public bathrooms of their choice.”

And in 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a case regarding the use of bathrooms by transgender students, thus upholding lower court’s rulings.

Despite this, a group of parents and citizens in the Bethel community began circulating petitions to call for the removal of three Board members who, according to their website, were “neglecting their duty to ensure all children at Bethel are safe.”

The group asserts, in a statement provided to the Miami Valley Today, “During the January 10th meeting of the Bethel BOE, board president Lydda Mansfield announced that Bethel Local Schools had adopted the policy that allows transgender students to use the restrooms and locker rooms aligning with their gender identity. This policy went into effect at the beginning of the year.” Though the district maintains that no new policy was enacted.

Over 200 local residents attended the Feb. 14 Board meeting, speaking against the policy.

The group’s website also states that there is no law under Ohio Revised Code or under the Ohio Department of Education requiring transgender student’s access to bathrooms and locker rooms of their preference.

“It is Ohio’s reserved power to the state to determine how it educates its’ students,” says the website in reference to the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. However, Title IX compliance is a condition of receiving federal funding.

The group also makes claims of “Gross Immorality,” “Exercising authority not authorized by law,” “Nonfeasance,” and “Neglect of duty and nonfeasance” against the three board members and Firks.

The petition calling for the removal of the three board members has reached over 600 signatures.