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Lansing – Education officials are seeking additional public feedback and delaying a board vote on controversial school policy recommendations designed to support lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and gender non-conforming students.

The Michigan Department of Education is extending a public comment period that was scheduled to end April 11 for “at least another 30 days,” according to spokesman Martin Ackley. The means the draft guidance policy will not be ready for formal consideration at a May 10 meeting of the state Board of Education.

The optional recommendations for Michigan schools include suggestions that staff address transgender students by their chosen names and corresponding “he” or “she” pronouns, allow them to use bathrooms and locker rooms in accordance with their stated gender identity and let them participate in corresponding sports programs.

The board “wants to be very thoughtful in this discussion, hear all of the input, and clarify any misconceptions that may be out there,” Ackley said in an email.

“There are nearly 3,000 public comments submitted already, just via the online format. There also are additional comments via fax and traditional mail. The comments are coming in on both sides of the issue.”

Republican lawmakers have pushed back against the draft policy guidance first shared with the board in February, suggesting they and parents were not given enough notification. A House budget subcommittee responded by voting to strip travel funding for state school board members.

House Speaker Kevin Cotter, R-Mount Pleasant, said he and colleagues are already hearing from parents worried about the prospect of shared bathrooms and locker rooms. He requested on Thursday an extension of the public comment period.

“The greater public is just learning about this, and there’s a lot of concern about it,” Cotter said Thursday. “So for that public comment period to end as soon as April 11 I think is too short. I think we have to allow some additional time, and my hope is at the end the board will change course on this and not issue that recommendation.”

The recommendations, if approved, would not be mandatory. Schools could choose whether to adopt the policy in part or whole.

The policies were developed by a work group that included Michigan Department of Education staff, members of the gay and transgender community, educators, administrators, school psychologists and school district attorneys.

State Rep. Adam Zemke, D-Ann Arbor, on Wednesday praised the guidance proposal as a “very robust recommendation” that would encourage dialogue and “inclusive protection” for students.

Zemke also criticized the House subcommittee budget cut as a “petty step in the wrong direction” for the state in terms of sending a welcoming message to young people.

Visit the Every Voice Counts in Michigan website to comment on and read the full Draft Statement and Guidance on Safe and Supportive Learning Environments for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Students.

joosting@detroitnews.com

(517) 371-3660

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