Sequim School Board approves transgender policy

By Arwyn Rice
Peninsula Daily News

SEQUIM — The Sequim School Board unanimously approved a transgender policy this week after intense discussion and impassioned pleas from citizens on both sides of the issue.

Four district residents — one of whom was identified as a parent of a child in the district — spoke out Monday night against approving a policy that would allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their gender identity, which they said could upset and confuse children. Some said they feared rape.

One parent argued that schools need to be inclusive for all students.

“We need to adopt this because it is the right thing to do,” said board member Walter Johnson before the vote.

The policy spells out the legal concerns the district must consider when drafting a transgender procedure.

It says that “the board recognizes the importance of an inclusive approach toward transgender students with regard to official records, confidential health and education information, communication, restroom and other locker room accessibility, sports and physical education, dress codes and other school activities . . .”

The administration will be responsible for developing procedures for carrying out the policy, such as a gender-nonspecific dress code.

No deadline was set for creating those procedures, and they will not come before the board.

Superintendent Kelly Shea said state and federal law limits the public school district’s options and what the school may, or must, allow or disallow in regard to transgender students.

Under current state law, transgender students must be allowed to use the bathrooms of their choice, even if a single-stall, all-student-use bathroom is available, Shea said.

A separate policy, the district’s general nondiscrimination policy, deals with such differences as those of race, marriage status or religion and includes “gender expression and identity.”

Board members asked Shea why the district would have a specific policy for transgender students when there is no specific policy for any other minority group.

Creating a specific policy protects the school district and employees from potential lawsuits, he said.

The district does not now have a procedure to guide teachers and administrators to work with a transgender student, Shea said.

A procedure exists for appeals and complaints after a problem is not addressed to the student or the parent’s satisfaction, Shea said.

Two students

The district currently has two students who have been formally identified as transgender, but there may have more who have not come forward, he said.

Board member Heather Jeffers said that as a social worker, she has worked with teenagers and young adults who have ended up on the street after abuse or bullying because of their gender status or sexual preference.

“Those two kids matter,” Jeffers said.

Board member Bev Horan agreed, saying: “It’s not about the 2,790 students; it’s about the one, each and every one of our children.”

Board member Mike Howe said he was frustrated by an early misunderstanding as to whether the policy was mandated by the state.

A state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction contacted the district and said the policy is highly recommended, rather than being mandated by the state, as the board believed.

A notification from the Washington State School Directors’ Association to the state school district indicated that the policy was a highest priority. That usually means a policy is mandated for the next school year, Shea said.

A query to the state association found that the association legal counsel felt policies were needed to protect school boards, Shea said.

The Port Angeles School Board considered a transgender policy earlier this year and delayed its decision.

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Reporter Arwyn Rice can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5070, or at arwyn.rice@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: August 05. 2014 5:32PM
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