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Lawmakers and Superintendents weigh in on Board of Education's LGBTQ document

Lawmakers and Superintendents weigh in on Board of Education's LGBTQ document

The State Board of Education recently released a draft of recommendations on how school districts could better support the LGBTQ student community. But some of the recommendations have some parents, school districts, and lawmakers concerned.

The document is called the Safe and Supportive Learning Environments for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Students.

The board says it's all about supporting these students and making sure they have a safe learning environment that they can succeed in.

Around 150,000 students in Michigan identify as being gay, and there's also a growing number of transgender individuals. That's according to the Michigan Board of Education.

"If they're not welcomed and embraced in school and acknowledged and supported, they're 4 and a half times more likely to have attempted suicide, twice as likely to skip school because they're afraid and twice as likely to get bad grades," said John Austin, President to the State Board of Education.

Austin says the guidelines were created after several districts asked the board for guidance on how to address certain situations involving LGBTQ students.

A work group chosen by the board and made up of parents, teachers, students, administrators social psychologists, and a handful of other people compiled the list of voluntary recommendations for the districts to use.

"We looked at other states and how they succeed with these youth," Austin said.

The recommendations include things like, encouraging staff to address students by their chosen names and pronouns that match their gender identity, despite their legal name. They also include applying those names to unofficial student records including class and team rosters.

But when it comes to contacting the student's parents, staff should use the student's legal name, unless the student or parent has specified otherwise.

It's something some lawmakers and superintendents have a problem with.

"I am most concerned with the fact that parents may not know the conduct of their children in a school setting, and that is very concerning," said State Representative Triston Cole (R) District 105.

"My initial reaction is this is the first piece of legislation or policy that really is asking schools not to work with the parents," said Kingsley Area Schools Superintendent Dr. Keith Smith. "I think it lacks an element of common sense where the recommendation is to refer to a transgender child by their chosen name or pronoun when at school, but then at like a parent-teacher conference or if we have to call home...to remember to revert back to their legal name and pronoun."

Another recommendation is to allow students to use bathrooms based on the gender they identify with, or to provide all gender or single-user restrooms.

Locker room situations are recommended to be handled on a case-by-case basis.

"Having three daughters I can't imagine a developing boy being in the locker room with them or even sharing the same bathroom with them," Rep. Cole said. "That just doesn't make sense."

"It's very clear that transgender students, which are what some people are trying to suggest are somehow a menace to other students, there's no evidence that that's the case," Austin said. "In fact, transgender students for the most part they want to be accepted as who they are. They're not interested in molesting other people. They often want a private place to go to the bathroom so that they can have that. And we're asking all schools to work it out and are providing some recommendations on how they can, given their unique student population and their parents' concerns."

Smith believes it could lead to schools making some major physical changes.

"I think it's going to cause for the redesign of schools," said Smith. "I think you're going to see probably in the future, bathrooms that are just single compartments with a floor to ceiling divider and a door. I think you will see that in locker rooms as well."

The recommendations cover other topics including physical education classes and intramural sports, interscholastic sports, dress codes, and gender-based activities and practices.

Austin stresses that districts will not be forced to do any of these things. He says they are simply recommendations.

"We've come a long way in embracing and celebrating and supporting each other, gay kids, transgender kids, and it's important that we continue to march," Austin said.

Smith questions whether or not so many options is a positive thing.

"I don't think you really want 700 school districts making individual decisions and doing different things," he said. "It would be nice to get a clear set of guidelines to how schools should be responding."

While Kingsley Area Schools does not have any known gay or transgender students, Smith says they'll be addressing these issues as they come up.

"I don't think we will lead the charge on this one and get out in front of it," Smith said. "I think we will adopt policies as the need arises."

The current recommendations could change, according to Austin.

They've asked the public to weigh in on what's currently written before they approve the final recommendations that will remain voluntary for each district to follow.

Because of the overwhelming response they've already received, the time to do that has extended into May.

To view the board's current list click here.

To voice your opinion, click here.


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