No one testified at the Dallas School Board meeting in November. People in this working class Oregon town tend to trust their elected officials. But the chairs filled so fast at December's meeting volunteers had to bring in dozens of extras.
Most in the crowd of 75 didn't look up when Elliot Yoder slipped in five minutes late, red hair peeking out from beneath an Oakland Raiders cap. The 14-year-old leaned against the wall, and his 5-foot-1-inch frame suddenly seemed even smaller. His eyes widened behind black plastic frame glasses.
He was the reason they were all there.
This fall, Dallas School District officials sent a letter to the 67 students in Yoder's gym class announcing they would allow an unnamed transgender student to use the boys locker room, the facility that matched his gender identity but not his anatomy.
Many school districts are seeing students come out for the first time, sometimes as early as elementary school. Rural and urban districts alike are struggling to decide which locker and bathrooms those students should use.
The U.S. Department of Education ruled in early November that an Illinois school district violated federal Title IX regulations when administrators prevented a transgender female from using the girls' facilities. The federal ruling applied only to one student, but school districts across the country have paid attention, believing that a precedent was set.
In Dallas, a town of 15,000 just west of Salem, district lawyers told school officials that enforcement of Title IX rules had changed "significantly" in recent years: The law passed in 1972 to ensure women had equal access to education now protects transgender students from discrimination.
The letter Dallas administrators sent home with students Nov. 16 explained their decision wasn't up for debate.
That didn't sit well with Dallas residents, who packed the December school board meeting even though the issue wasn't on the agenda. The audience fidgeted as board members cycled through reports about the holiday bazaar, a robotics competition and the Oregon School Board Association's annual convention.
Finally, the testimony began.
Yoder, the student in question, settled into a seat near the back with a deep sigh.
"This isn't going to be fun," he whispered.