Christian school pressures 'tomboy' to transfer

Family told they have no grounds for a lawsuit because school is private
Associated Press
Mar 29, 2014

Eight-year-old Sunnie Kahle likes to keep her hair short, wear boys' clothes, collect hunting knives and shoot her BB gun.

"She's a pure, 100 percent tomboy," said her great-grandfather Carroll Thompson, who along with his wife Doris adopted their granddaughter's child.

But to Timberlake Christian School administrators, the second-grader's boyish ways warranted an ultimatum: Start acting like a girl or find another school.

The Thompsons found another school, but they didn't go quietly. After being told by lawyers that they have no grounds for a lawsuit because Timberlake is a private school, the Thompsons have gone public with their complaints.

"I don't see nothing Christian about it," 66-year-old Carroll Thompson said in an interview at the family's house just outside Lynchburg, home of Liberty University, the Christian school founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell.

Doris Thompson, who's 69, said she was stunned when she received a letter last month saying the school can deny enrollment to applicants for condoning "sexual immorality," homosexuality or alternative gender identity.

Principal Becky Bowman wrote that "we believe that unless Sunnie as well as her family clearly understand that God has made her female and her dress and behavior need to follow suit with her God-ordained identity, that TCS is not the best place for her future education."

Doris Thompson said Sunnie knows she is a girl and has never, to her knowledge, wished she were a boy.

Other disputes over gender expression at school have made headlines recently, including a demand, later rescinded, that a 9-year-old North Carolina boy cease carrying a My Little Pony backpack to school. But that case and others involved public schools rather than private religious academies that are not subject to anti-discrimination laws.

After a television news report about the Thompsons created a social media frenzy, the school retained the legal arm of Liberty University to tell its side. Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, said there is more to the situation than the Thompsons are saying.

"This is not at all about how she is dressing or she is going through a phase," Staver said in a telephone interview.

However, he said confidentiality laws prevented him from being more specific and school officials would rather not try to rebut the Thompsons' allegations. Earl Prince, an administrator at the school, also declined to discuss what prompted Bowman's letter.

Doris Thompson said she is unaware of anything, other than Sunnie's appearance and tomboy ways, that would prompt the school's action. She said Sunnie made good grades, was well-behaved and got along with the other children. New classmates would sometimes ask if she were a boy or a girl, but she would answer and that would be the end of it, Thompson said.

Bowman acknowledged in her letter that the school's position doesn't stem from Sunnie's grades or "general cooperation with school rules."

Staver said school officials were dismayed that the Thompsons chose not to resolve the issue with them privately. He said school officials would like to have Sunnie back.

"The school has never called the girl immoral, has never evicted her and is willing to work with her," Staver said. "She is a precious little girl."

This year, a girl mistook Sunnie for a boy in the girls' restroom and reported it to a teacher, and two boys tried to drag Sunnie into the boys' restroom. Sunnie said the boys got in trouble, but she did too "for yelling down the hallway."

Sunnie, eager to break away from an interview and ride her bike, said she liked Timberlake better than the public school she is now attending.

"I had a lot of friends there," she said of the school she attended since age 3.

Doris Thompson said Sunnie would grow her hair so she could return to Timberlake, but her husband said that's "out of the question."

Sunnie's troubles at Timberlake began in pre-kindergarten after she cut her hair to donate it to a program that provides wigs for cancer patients, Doris Thompson said. Around then, she started wanting boys' clothes.

"A teacher told me I was the parent and I needed to control her, and if she didn't obey I needed to take her in the bathroom and whip her butt," Thompson said.

Rather than just dismiss the teacher's concerns, she asked the family doctor for advice. "He said, 'Leave that child alone!'" she said.

Afterward, Thompson said the teacher told her: "You need to find a Christian doctor."

Comments

kURTje

Well look at what state this occurred in.....

Donegan

She "collect hunting knives and shoot her BB gun." Coaster and dog already hate her so their self righteous indignation means absolutely nothing. Freaking hypocrites.

AEversole

Thinkagain has some of the most ignorant points and ideas I've ever heard... You are what's wrong with the world., get a life loser

44846GWP

Here! Here!

Truth or Dare

This child donated her locks of hair for children with cancer! Evidently her parents weren't the type to talk her out of it, maybe by trying to convince her that the children or their parents probably did something wrong, some kind of horrid sin to deserve getting cancer! By the way, the part about the school not wanting to comment, that there were extenuating circumstances doesn't surprise me. Sounds to me like she was being bullied as well. I mean really, she's attacked by 2 boys and dragged into the boys restroom and she is punished for yelling for help?! Gotta love that zero tolerance, eh? Which by the way is the complete opposite in regards to the gifts of God's Spirit Christians are instructed within NT Scripture to pray for. There is a word for this, it's called O-S-T-R-C-I-Z-E!

Nemesis

Your judgement of their policies is IRRELEVANT, unless you're a voting member of the congregation that runs the school. Regardless of what you (or I) think of their policies, it's their church, their school, and none of our stinking business what policies they set there, up to and until the point where they fan out into the streets to conscript students at gunpoint.

Don't like it? DON'T JOIN. It's that simple.

kURTje

Or....Richard & Virginia Loving. Their marriage illegal. He was white. She was black. They were State Law Violators. This seems similar.

Truth or Dare

They're already fanned out into the streets, only instead of using a gun as a weapon of force, they're using the Bible and are backed with millions of tax exempt $$$$'s lobbying on Capitol Hill and using our Supreme Court to enact laws that effect all, even those that are of no faith/religion at all.

The way this child was treated is discriminatory, period. So glad her Grandfather stepped up and became her Advocate, a human redeemer of sorts. By the way, it is my business, as I have a grandchild that attends a pre-school that is ran by a local church. It shakes me to the core to think that he could possibly be treated the same way should his parents let his hair grow long and he would like to wear the color pink. There are no worries as to me joining any org. that is so zealous they would treat a child in this manner. As a matter of fact, haven't been a member of any organized religion since shortly after 9/11. The Sunday following was ranked the highest church attendance nation wide. That Sunday, from the pulpit of the church I was a member of, the minister in his sermon actually blamed the attacks on all the gays within our country. I was God Smacked! I'm not gay, never was, never will be, and I'll be damned if I'm going to sit within the walls of any church that would discriminate in such a horrid manner.

Pages