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Transgender guidelines for schools could be approved soon

Sep 1, 2016

Transgender students in Michigan should be able to use the bathrooms and locker rooms that fit their gender identity.

That's what the state school board will advise in its finalized guidelines later this month, says board President John Austin.

These guidelines are totally optional for schools – but even so, they’ve been controversial, with a draft version drawing some 13,000 public comments online.

Some Republican lawmakers in Michigan have even introduced so-called "bathroom bills" to block transgender students from using any bathroom that doesn't match their "biological sex."

Still, Austin says he’s got the votes on the board to approve the guidelines. And he says they took parental concerns about an earlier draft into account. For example: he says they clarified a section about “student identity” that some parents said would cut them out of the conversation when a student comes out at school.

Now, the guidelines read, in part:

“When students have not come out to their parents, a disclosure to parents should be carefully considered on a case-by-case basis, school districts should consider the health, safety, and well-being of the student, as well as the responsibility to keep parents informed. Privacy considerations may vary with the age of the students.”

Still, some critics of the guidelines (including several parents who expressed their concerns at state school board meetings) say it violates student privacy. They say they’re worried that other kids could feel threatened or uncomfortable with a transgender student in their locker room or bathroom – or that anyone could use these guidelines as an excuse to get into women’s restrooms.

Austin, a Democrat, isn’t buying it.

“If boys are going into your daughter’s locker room, the schools right now know who they are, and are policing them,” he says. “There’s never been an episode where a transgender boy or girl molested another person. It just doesn’t happen. In fact, they’re the ones being attacked and often hurt.”

As for other students’ privacy, the guidelines say:  “Any student who has a need or desire for increased privacy, regardless of underlying reasons, has the right to access a single-user restroom.”

Jay Maddock, executive director of the Kalamazoo Gay and Lesbian Resource Center, helps schools respond when transgender students come out. He recommends schools implement a “transition plan” with those students: what gender pronoun would they like teachers and staff to use? What bathrooms?

And then he suggests schools should establish a policy, that without such a transition plan in place, students can’t just switch bathrooms on a whim.

"Let's imagine that an adolescent pulls a prank, and goes into a restroom that doesn't match with their gender identity,” Maddock told Michigan Radio in May. “We're not asking you to uphold that. So when a student violates your school rules, they're still violating the rules."

Still, not everyone on the board approves of the new guidelines.

“…No government entity should be proposing guidelines while court cases are pending; Michigan is a plaintiff in one,” says Eileen Weiser, a Republican member of the state school board. “It's highly likely the Supreme Court will rule on [the] transgender bathroom/locker room issue in the next year.  Guidelines issued on that would give schools a clear legal path for implementation, one that's unlikely to be challenged…

“…Michigan should be focused on protecting every child regardless of the risk group…This document does the opposite,” Weiser wrote in an email Thursday. “And sadly, those singled out for preferential treatment can be harassed and ostracized by others, especially if the focus isn't put on stopping all bullying [sic.]”

Board President John Austin says he expects the board to move to approve the guidelines September 14th.