Community members voice concerns over student safety and inclusion during public comment

ATASCADERO — The Atascadero Unified School District (AUSD) met for its regularly scheduled school board meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 5, at 7 p.m. The meeting introduced the district to this year’s Student Representative Riley Rocha, a senior at Atascadero High School.

The AUSD Business Department was then recognized for executing the CORE values of teamwork and excellence at the end of the 2022-23 school year when the team lost access to the district financial system for 28 work days, meaning they had to finish out most of the year by hand. 

“We lost access on June 13, and we did not get access until July 21, during what I would call the most critical time of the year,” said Assistant Superintendant of Business Services Jackie Martin. “We’re trying to close out the ’22-23 school year with no access. We had three payrolls that all had to be done primarily by hand and then put into the system. 


“They also had to process almost $1.5 million by hand for accounts payable. There was also a lot of check writing done by hand and many other financial things that keep our district running. They were finally able to close out the books on Sept. 1.”

Many of the people who came to speak during Oral Communications from the Public were there to comment on a letter that went out to the district stating the California laws in regard to students being able to use bathrooms and locker rooms based on their gender identity. Since the item was not agendized, the trustee board was not able to address any of the comments made that evening. 

“Thanks, everyone. We’re looking forward to hearing from all of our speakers, and I know some of you are here to share with the trustees items around student use of restrooms and locker rooms,” said Superintendant Tom Bulter at the start. “I appreciate everyone being here. There may be other topics that you want to talk about. We’re happy to listen to you on all of that. On Aug. 22, I sent out a letter to all of our high school families and staff sharing some of the law. I share that with you because some of the trustees that you’re going to speak to tonight are not the lawmakers that made the laws, yet they have certain obvious requirements to follow laws. I did want to share that those laws I sighted in that letter also apply to all public schools, all private schools, any religiously based school, community colleges, public and private universities, and of course, just public restrooms in general, even those in businesses. We’re glad that you’re here. I did just want to remind you that once again, the trustees are here to support you and your students.” 

A majority of the speakers addressed the trustee board with concerns for their children’s safety, given the laws that state that students can use restrooms and locker rooms based on their gender identity and not the gender indicated on their school records. However, those concerned citizens also stated they wanted the transgender students to feel safe at school, too. 

Lee Swindell, the father of a female high school student, addressed the trustee board wearing a sundress.

“This is probably the most uncomfortable attire that I’ve ever worn in my life, but more importantly than being Lee Swindell, I’m a father,” he said. “Becoming a father was the best day of my life because that’s when I found out that my job was to be my child’s guardian angel and protect them from all harm. What’s going on is not OK. I mean, you’ve got a penis in the woman’s locker room. I mean, they just change in front of everyone. Is this OK? Are you OK with your daughter being in a locker room like this? Because I’m not, and I don’t think it’s safe.”

He added that he does not care if a student wants to identify as a different gender, but he does have a problem with a person with male genitalia exposing themselves in front of his daughter.” 

Creig Sherburne also addressed the issue.

AUSD Creig Sherburne
Creig Sherburne addresses the AUSD board about the district’s gender identity policies during the board meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 5. Contributed Photo

“Somehow, we’re able to talk to our youngest children about where babies come from without talking about sex organs or intercourse, but in the conversation about changing clothes for P.E., we can somehow talk about nothing but sex organs,” stated Sherburne. “It’s as if this wasn’t about living in peace, but about having someone smaller than ourselves to bully. The first big Greyhound Orange bullet point on AUSD’s website reads, ‘No Bullying.’ I believe that applies to every student, not just the approved ones, and I hope that applies to the teachers, administrators, and, to you, the school board itself. Please, don’t allow yourselves to be bullied into doing anything but what is best to allow every student to grow into the best version of herself.”

Atascadero News reached out to the district in regards to the incident with the student spoken about by both Swindell and Sherburne but have not received comment at the time of printing.

The trustee board addressed the speakers during their Board Member Report and thanked the community for coming out and sharing their perspectives and for being respectful of the differing views being shared.

The next regularly scheduled AUSD board meeting will take place on Sept. 19 at 7 p.m.

Feature Image: Parent Lee Swindell wears a sundress to the Atascadero Unified School District board meeting Tuesday, Sept. 5, while speaking out agains the district gender identity policies. Contributed Photo