An Oklahoma school district briefly shut down this week after people purporting to be parents of students used social media to make violent, epithet-filled threats against a transgender girl.
Public schools in Achille reopened Wednesday after being closed Monday and Tuesday, the Associated Press reports. Meanwhile, Bryan County Sheriff Johnny Christian has launched an investigation into a series of posts in a now-deleted private Facebook group called Achille ISD Parents Group. A number of users there made cruel and transphobic comments about a 12-year-old seventh-grade student, identified in the media simply as Maddie.
“If he wants to be a female, make him a female,” one user wrote. “A good sharp knife will do the job really quick.” Another post read, “You know we have open hunting seasons on them kind. Ain’t no bag limit either.”
Although Maddie identifies as female, many of the Facebook posts referred to her using male pronouns. Others referred to the child as a “half baked maggot” and a “thing.” One post appeared to encourage another student to “whip his ass until he quits coming to school.”
Maddie’s mother, Brandy Rose, told local news station KXII that the trouble began on her daughter’s first day of middle school, Aug. 8. The girl had been using a staff bathroom since fifth grade when the family moved to Achille, Rose said. But when Maddie was unable to locate the staff bathroom in the new school, her mother said, she opted for the girls’ bathroom instead.
After another student’s parent found out that Maddie had used the girls’ bathroom, Rose told KXII, that parent took to the Facebook group to complain.
“She’s been living as female for years. We had no problems when we first started,” Rose explained, adding that her daughter is now fearing for her safety. “These are adults making threats ― I don’t understand it. To see any fear in her, I can’t explain how bad that hurts me for them to hurt her.”
The controversy has put Achille ― a small town located about 160 miles southeast of Oklahoma City ― on the national map. A number of LGBTQ advocacy groups and rights advocates have weighed in, including Tyler Clementi Foundation co-founder Jane Clementi, who commended the school district “for taking action to protect the safety of its students.”
“When children use the internet or social media to harass, embarrass or demean their peers, it’s cyberbullying,” Clementi told HuffPost in a statement. “But when adults use the internet to threaten violence to a child, it’s a crime.”
The news also prompted about 20 people to stage a silent protest in Achille on Tuesday in solidarity with Maddie.
Sheriff Christian said Bryan County was working with several agencies, including the FBI, to investigate the Facebook posts. He told the Kansas City Star that Rose had filed a protective order against one of the parents who threatened Maddie, but that no arrests had been made.
Both he and Achille school Superintendent Rick Beene, who oversees some 360 students, said that many of the users who made the transphobic comments weren’t even from the area.
“Most of our community is very, very good people … very open to all ethnicities, all populations,” Beene told KFOR. Noting that he plans to work with local LGBTQ advocacy groups to coordinate special training for Achille teachers and administrators, he added, “We’ve got a group of kids that love each other.”