State board of education to study transgender issues

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News

Detroit — The state school superintendent Tuesday said the board has work to do on the issue of transgender students’ use of bathrooms and locker rooms and a vote on new state guidelines won’t come before August..

“We need to have conversations with a lot of people,” Superintendent Brian Whiston said.

Whiston, who met with The Detroit News editorial board Tuesday, said a seven-page board policy for a safe and supportive learning environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning students (LGBTQ) was issued by the board in February. The new guidelines debated in public comments last week drew more than 13,000 remarks, he said.

“The role of the parents must be a part of (the policy),” Whiston said. “You can’t even take an aspirin without parental approval, so how can you not have parents be part of this?”

The recommendation states students in K-12 public schools can determine their gender identities and names they prefer. without parental buy in.

“Parents must play a role,” Whiston said.

The Obama administration told public schools across the country last week to allow transgender students access to bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity, citing their vulnerability and harassment or bullying they may encounter. Republican leaders and and social conservatives quickly criticized the action.

The board’s proposed policy says students should be allowed restroom access in accordance with their gender identity. Gender-neutral or single-user restrooms should be made available to students who request them, but not presented as the only option. Any student who requires increased privacy has the right to access a single-user restroom.

“There already are a lot of staff bathrooms that could be used in the buildings,” Whiston said. “But the real issue is the locker rooms.

“Most students these days don’t take showers in school anyway,” he said. “They may take them after a football game but they don’t have to take showers in school. Many just wait until they get home. We have to hear from different groups, and we must determine how close the showers are to other rooms available.”

Madison Schools Superintendent Randy Speck wants school districts to handle the issue.

“It is understandable that the state board would to provide guidance. However, this is a local issue,” he said. “School districts have been providing accommodations for families with various concerns forever. Local schools do not need state or federal intervention regarding these matters. The priorities of poverty in schools and student achievement need to be the focus of the state board.”

Dozens of parents, students and administrators spoke in on the issue last week in in Lansing. Whiston said the board is listening and weighing the comments.

“The public comments have been closed, online as well, but I’m still hearing from people about the issue all the time,” Whiston said. “We received over 13,000 comments and our team will be going over them. We are going to slow it down. We want to do the right thing.”

He said no vote has been scheduled.

“August is the earliest (the board) will be able to vote on it,” he said.

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