Kathryn and Jeremy Mathis have a bit of experience in standing up for their kids.
Their oldest daughter, Dakota, 8, has autism. For the first half of her life she was non-verbal, and the Mathises had to decide how to best educate her through the early years. They chose to homeschool.
In 2006, Kathryn gave birth to triplets. One of them, Max, also has autism. Lily, at four months, experienced a viral brain injury and as a result is often sick and cannot moderate her own body temperature. The Mathises picked up the family and moved from their native Texas to Fountain for the milder weather.
The third of their triplets, Coy, is transgender. Biologically a boy, she identifies as a girl — and has, as Kathryn says, since she could express herself verbally. "Why are you calling me a he?" Coy would ask her parents. "I'm a she."
It's this last situation that has put their family in the pages of national media like John Schwartz' New York Times during the past couple months — and much like Schwartz's own family, at odds with the public schools.
On Monday, April 15, the Mathises completed the paperwork phase of their recent complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Division against Fountain-Fort Carson School District 8. After a year of Coy's attending Eagleside Elementary as a girl with the school's full support, the district's lawyers called out of the blue in December and told the family that after winter break, the first-grader would need to use the boys' bathroom, a staff bathroom, or the bathroom in the nurse's office.
The Mathises still are confused about the switch.
"There hadn't been any issues," Kathryn says they told her. "... They were more concerned about setting a precedent for future years, where she's in middle school, high school, and, you know, has various body developments as she's going through puberty. ... I think if they had just looked into what most transgender children do, they would be a little bit more educated and know that she likely will not go through male puberty because we'll block those hormones."
At one point, after Kathryn asked to meet and discuss the situation, the district's lawyers told her no. She says they said, "We're bending over backwards just calling that boy a girl."
A phone call to the district has not been returned.
And so, with support from attorney Michael Silverman and the New York-based Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, they filed a complaint. The couple hoped to resolve the issue through the first step, mediation. When the district refused, they pulled Coy and their other children out of school. Kathryn says they submitted a full statement to the state, the district submitted a response, and after turning in the family's response in reply this week, it's now in the hands of Civil Rights Division investigators.
She says they can either decide immediately or take up to 180 days to investigate more. Once they reach a decision, it goes to mandatory mediation. If the decision is in Coy's favor and the school still won't acquiesce, it goes to the Human Rights Division and the whole process begins again. If that doesn't come to resolution, it heads to the local courts.
Now homeschooling Coy, Dakota, Max and Lily, with 2-year-old Auri toddling about, Kathryn, a 27-year-old photographer, and Jeremy, a 31-year-old former Marine headed for law school in the fall, could probably do without the headache. But that's not how the family operates.
"If we just kind of silently walked away, when we had the chance to talk about it, then it would be setting up a really bad situation for another child," Kathryn says. "Because then they would come in and the school would go, 'Well, we got away with this before, so we're certainly not gonna back down now.'"
Her frustration peaks a bit when she thinks also of what the other kids at Eagleside are learning.
"They're teaching them that it's OK to bully somebody that's different. Instead of teaching them this amazing lesson ... that it's great to be different and accept differences and everybody's special.
"Of course," she adds, "they're also teaching them that you can thumb your nose at the law if you don't like it. And that's a really bad message to teach 600 children."