Proposed transgender policy draws fire at Sequim schools meeting

By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News

SEQUIM –– Unveiling a proposed, state-ordered policy regarding transgender students generated criticism as the Sequim School District's board of directors considered the new policy for the first time this week.

State law requires public school districts to have policies in place that prohibit discrimination against transgender students and require the use of the pronoun of the student's choice and allow students to choose whether they use the boys', girls' or private restrooms.

“It wasn't that long ago that we had restrooms that only black people could use. We got rid of them,” Harry Damian, a resident of the school district, told School Board members Monday night.

“Now you're going to put this in place?”

Said parent Tiffani Mote: “Why is walking into a female bathroom or male bathroom representing more than just your biology?”

The board will discuss the transgender policy again, and may adopt it, at its Aug. 4 meeting.

The district has been working on a case-by-case basis to address the needs of transgender students, Superintendent Kelly Shea said.

“In our case, we have always been able to create accommodations and alternatives so our students can feel comfortable,” he said.

“So our transgender students are not using either the boys' restroom or the girls' restroom but have their own room.”

Board member Bev Horan noted that some transgender students currently use the nurse's office of the school's life skills office to change clothes or use the restroom.

“We have a number of students who only change clothes or use the restroom by themselves,” Horan said.

She noted that many of those efforts have been spearheaded by the school's gay-straight alliance, a club that provides support for “students with differences in sexual preference.”

Damian noted that other public places offer alternatives, such as Home Depot, offers family restrooms that are private and open to anyone.

Unisex bathrooms

Former Sequim teacher Bonnie Bless-Boenish said the Jamestown S'Klallam tribe's rest area at Blyn has unisex bathrooms.

“They are public restrooms, and you have no idea who's coming in or out or what their personal life is like,” she said.

“What if they're not sure?” Mote asked. “They're sitting there, wrestling with feelings, thinking, 'Maybe I am, maybe I'm not.' And this forces them to choose.

“If we start forcing them to make black-and-white decisions, you're going to start losing students.”

Much of the objection expressed at Monday night's meeting was directed at the state, not the School Board.

“While protecting students from discrimination makes sense, it kind of puts the School Board in a delicate and difficult balance,” district resident Jerry Sinn told the board.

“Because the state now has you pitting the rights of transgender students versus the rights of other students.”

Jon Didrickson of Port Angeles told the board it could reject the state mandate and address the needs of transgender students individually.

“I think it might be appropriate to push back today,” Didrickson said. “We don't want the government to be the bully.”

List of consequences

Board member Mike Howe asked Shea to bring to the next meeting a list of consequences the district might face if it rejects the state policy.

Shea noted that even if the board approves the new policy, he creates the procedures the district would use to meet the needs of transgender students.

Shea and speakers Monday night pitched out the idea of a special panel of citizens, parents and school officials to guide those procedure implementations.

After a contentious hearing in June, the Port Angeles School Board referred the transgender policy to a special committee for review.

Opponents of the policy as it was originally written are working with the committee as it reviews the policy and creates a procedure to establish how it would be implemented.

The board is expected to review the new policy and the procedure at a board meeting in August.

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Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at jsmillie@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: July 22. 2014 7:24PM
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