The Mat-Su School Board was caught off guard when a little-known administrative protocol on transgender students came to light last week.
Written in 2015, but essentially buried deep in the school district’s website and completely unknown to several board members, the guidance directs principals, teachers and staff to let transgender students use the bathrooms and locker rooms of their preference, regardless of their biology. It also instructs teachers and students to use whichever personal pronouns a transgender student desires.
According to the document, the purpose is to “assist in the educational and social integration of transgender students in our schools.”
The document notes that social transitioning is the “process by which a person goes from living and identifying as one gender to living and identifying as another. For most elementary and secondary students, this involves no or minimal medical interventions. In most cases, transgender students under the age of 18 are in a process of social transition from one gender to another.”
It goes on to state that a student does not need a medical diagnosis in order to be considered transgender by the school district.
School Board Member Tom Bergey said he and other board members were caught off guard by the little-known document until it surfaced last week through social media, texting and numerous phone calls from constituents.
To his knowledge, Bergey said the guidelines were never approved by the school board, but published at the administrative level.
Jillian Morrissey, chief communication officer for the school district, said the guidelines were established in 2015 with help from the district’s legal counsel and the Equal Employment Officer at that time. She said the guidelines were developed in response to a board policy that prohibits discrimination.
The guidelines were available to read on the district’s website, but they have since been taken down.
Bergey said the board plans to address the controversy at its Sept. 7 meeting with a new policy that will provide clarity about how the Mat-Su approaches transgender issues going forward.
According to Bergey, the district already makes private accommodations for students who think they are members of the opposite sex, but the district does not – as far as he knows – let students use bathrooms and locker rooms of the opposite sex.
“I didn’t know we had any such document,” Bergey said. “The events caught us by surprise. It’s not that we were not planning to deal with it. It’s just we thought we had time to deal with it.”
If the board passes a new policy that conflicts with the 2015 guidelines, the policy will take precedence.
“Board policy trumps all,” Bergey said, adding that he is hopeful a new policy will “fit with the values of our community.”
Bergey said he does not know who circulated the 2015 document last week.
With regard to intimate facilities where students may shower, use the restroom or change clothes, the regulation states that transgender students must be allowed to use those facilities, even if they are of the opposite sex.
“That is a question I will be asking,” he said. “Is this just bureaucrats fumbling through, or is this someone trying to undermine? I would like to get to the bottom of it.”
As currently written, the guidelines direct students who identify as transgender to tell school administrators or counselors about their situation so they can have a meeting to discuss “circumstances” and create a plan. When developing the plan, the regulation states that it should be done in “consultation” with the student, parent(s)/guardian(s) and others as appropriate.” However, “if the parties cannot reach an agreement about the elements to be included in the plan, the building administrator and/or Superintendent shall be consulted as appropriate.”
Once developed the plan becomes a part of the student’s health file and remains private if that is what the student requests.
“In some cases, a student may want school staff and students to know, and in other cases, the student may not want this information to be widely known,” the 2015 document states. “School staff should take care to follow the student’s plan and not to inadvertently disclose information that is intended to be kept private or that is protected from disclosure (such as confidential medical information).”
Teachers, administrators and other school staff are directed to use whatever new name or pronouns that transgender students come up with.
“A student who has been identified as transgender under these guidelines should be addressed by school staff and other students by the name and pronoun corresponding to their gender identity that is consistently asserted at school,” the document clarifies.
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With regard to intimate facilities where students may shower, use the restroom or change clothes, the guidelines say transgender students must be allowed to use those facilities, even if they are of the opposite sex: “A student shall not be required to use a separate gender-neutral facility over his/her objection.”
At one point, the document appears to directly contradict a new board policy, approved in June, which directly prohibits students from competing in athletic competitions that are reserved for members of the opposite sex. In contrast with board policy regarding athletics, the document says, “transgender students may participate in accordance with the gender identity consistently asserted at school.”
When it comes to clothing or appearance, it says, “transgender students may dress in accordance with their consistently asserted gender identity.”
In order to ensure all teachers and staff are on board with a student’s transgender plan, the document directs the superintendent and school principals to “institute in-service training and/or distribute educational materials about transgender issues to school staff, as he/she deems appropriate.”
The next school board meeting will be held on Sept. 7, starting at 6 p.m., at the Mat-Su School Board Chambers (MSBSD Central Office, 501 N Gulkana St, Palmer).
— Click here to read the document on transgender students.
— Click here to contact members of the Mat-Su School Board.
— Click here to contact Mat-Su Schools Superintendent Randy Trani.
— Click here for information on how to participate in the Sept. 7 school board meeting.