Middle School Shut Down After Transgender Girl, 12, Threatened on Parents Facebook Group
Threats apparently made by adults on social media against a 12-year-old transgender student who has attended classes for two years without incident led a small, rural Oklahoma school district to shut down classes Monday and Tuesday.
“If he wants to be a female, make him a female,” one person wrote on a Facebook page, Achille ISD Parents Group, that is not formally affiliated with the district, reports TV news station KFOR. “A good sharp knife will do the job really quick.”
Most of the online comments appeared to come from outside the southern Oklahoma town of Achille and Bryan County, Sheriff Johnny Christian tells PEOPLE.
But while authorities investigated, Christian says he advised Achille Public Schools Superintendent Rick Beene and the school board on Sunday to keep students home. Classes will resume Wednesday, after a rally Monday in a city park drew about 20 people to support the 12-year-old, Maddie, until it was cut short by rain, says the sheriff.
The incident that sparked the threats occurred Friday morning when a relative of another student confronted Maddie’s mother, Brandy Rose, outside the middle school with disparaging comments about Maddie. “That’s where everything started,” the sheriff says. “She perceived it as a threat and was able to get a protective order.”
The family had moved to the area when Maddie was in fifth grade. “She’s been living as female for years– she started at Achille as Maddie,” Rose told TV news station KXII.
Initially, there were no problems, she said. But after another elementary student accused Maddie of peeping under a girls’ restroom stall, officials at that school allowed Maddie to use a staff restroom, her mother told the outlet.
“My daughter leans very far forward to use the bathroom,” Rose said. “I can understand why someone seeing her lean forward would think, ‘Oh my gosh, she’s trying to look under.'”
After starting classes last week at the middle school, however, Maddie was unsure where to go and made an initial visit to the girls’ bathroom, according to her mother.
“Heads up parents of 5th through 7th grade girls,” wrote a commenter later on the parents’ Facebook page. “The transgender is already using the girls bathroom. We have been told how the school has gone above and beyond to make sure he has his own restroom yet he is still using the girls. … Enough is enough.”
One commenter then described Maddie as “this thing.” Another inquired, “Why are parents letting their kids be transgender?”
Rose said the comments and threats made her daughter fearful.
“She’s an awesome kid,” she told KXII. “To see any fear in her, I can’t explain how bad that hurts me.”
The district responded with a statement, according to TV news stations KOCO: “Private discussion held on the social media sites do not represent the views of Achille school, staff, administration or school board. Achille Schools believes everyone should receive a safe education, and we have a very talented staff that cares very much about all of our students.”
“Our kids, our parents, most of our community is very, very good people … very open to all ethnicities, all populations and, really, we’ve got a group of kids that love each other,” said Superintendent Beene, according to KFOR. “We know of no bullying as far as this one situation is concerned.”
He said the decision to shutter classrooms for two days was due to the uncertainty of potential protests. A call by PEOPLE to Beene was not immediately returned.
No one has been charged with a crime, and the person named in the preliminary protective order granted on Friday to Maddie’s mother can challenge the order at a full hearing on Aug. 27, the sheriff says.
He adds that he reassured Maddie and her family that the community has their backs.
“The grandmother, the mother and Maddie, they have seen the strong support, and they are so greatly appreciative,” he says.
He says Maddie’s grandmother told him: “We were just in shock. We just didn’t know what to think of it all.”
“You just can’t threaten a child and expect to get away with it,” says Christian, a Bryan County native who says his forebears have called the area home since before Oklahoma won statehood in 1907. “We’re going to protect all the kids here in our county, along with all the parents.”
Maddie “seems content and ready to go back to school,” says the sheriff, who met with Maddie and her family Tuesday. “She was pretty excited.”