Mat-Su school’s new policy threatens transgender students, advocates say. It may also be illegal.

PALMER — Mat-Su school officials last week banned transgender students from using bathrooms and locker rooms that match their chosen gender identity following reports of a “ boy” using a locker room for high school girls.

The decision came after a crowd of concerned parents, including the Colony High School mother who first sounded the alarm, called a school board meeting for the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District and demanded an end of this access.

The school board voted 5-1 to suspend and revise guidelines for transgender students developed before 2015. An interim policy enacted Thursday requires all students to use facilities matching their biological sex at birth, with a limited number of bedrooms private available as an alternative.

But transgender advocates say that, rather than increasing school safety, the abrupt shift to an outdated practice poses real risks for students transitioning to a new gender identity. Studies show that young transgender people are at a higher risk of suicide than others.

These students are now faced with the emotionally daunting choice of using a bathroom or locker room they haven’t been in for a while, potentially “going out” themselves, or waiting for the bathroom in the offices. nurse, said Vincent Feuilles, president and founder of The Queen’s Guard, a Mat-Su-based nonprofit of about 50 members that advocates for LGBTQ+ people and their allies.

[Mat-Su bans transgender students from bathrooms that match their gender identity]

“I know there are young trans people who have said they couldn’t follow this policy, because it’s going to overwhelm them,” Feuilles said this week. ” Some young people[…]tried to go to school on Thursday or Friday, and their anxiety levels were so high. They had to bring their parents and bring them home.

Vincent Leaves

A number of Mat-Su parents contacted for this story declined to comment. One said people she knew were “terrified” to speak publicly about their transgender children for fear of reprisals.

At least one teacher in the district offers their private classroom bathroom to all transgender students.

“Sex discrimination is always illegal”

The new interim policy for transgender students, which does not apply to school employees, was announced last week in a message from Superintendent Randy Trani to families.

District guidelines, now suspended, recommended that transgender students use “gender-assigned” bathrooms or locker rooms, which the student consistently asserts in school” or private cubicles or a staff facility. Under the interim policy, students can either use the facilities corresponding to their biological sex at birth or request a private space.

Exactly what private rooms will look like will vary from school to school, district spokeswoman Jillian Morrissey said this week. The nurse’s office is an option, she said, and school administrators “will work with the student on an appropriate back-up facility if needed.”

There is no timeline for any review of the guidelines, and no process has been proposed by the school board or the board’s three-member policy committee that recommended the change, Morrissey said Tuesday.

She would not say whether any students have been penalized for violating the new policy or specifically what the penalties are.

[Mat-Su school board approves first local transgender athlete ban in Alaska]

Mat-Su appears to be the only school district in the state to have lifted protections for transgender students, according to Megan Edge, spokeswoman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska.

The Anchorage and Fairbanks school districts provide students with access to restrooms and locker rooms that match the gender identity they consistently affirm at school, with provisions for private rooms. The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District did not respond to questions about its policy for transgender students in time for this story.

Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District School Board Transgender Students

Mat-Su school board members say their decision to review the policy came after a federal judge in Tennessee in July temporarily blocked the Biden administration from protecting transgender students and workers in 20 states, including the ‘Alaska. The ruling enjoined the U.S. Department of Education’s Title IX guidelines, which prohibit gender discrimination and allow transgender students to use communal bathrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity.

But that doesn’t necessarily make Mat-Su’s policy change legal, according to Mara Kimmel, executive director of the ACLU of Alaska.

Tennessee’s “narrow” ruling only threatens federal funding for districts like Mat-Su that choose to “illegally discriminate against students on the basis of gender,” Kimmel said in an email. “Sex discrimination is still illegal under the federal and Alaska constitutions, and several federal appeals courts have sided with trans students, holding that they should be able to use facilities that match their gender identity. under the Federal Civil Rights Act.

“A boy in the girls’ locker room”

Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District School Board Transgender Students

The policy change stemmed from an emergency meeting of the board’s policy committee after the mother of a Colony High School student voiced her concerns on social media in late August.

Palmer resident Christal Houghtelling, in a widely shared Facebook post, said her daughter had come home from school “asking us why there was a boy in the girls’ locker room.”

Houghtelling testified before the school board last week, saying she had received threats but would not apologize “for bringing this issue to light.” My child came to the locker room and realized there was a biological male.

School staff told the family they weren’t allowed to notify parents of a transgender student using the locker room, she said.

“As parents, I want you to imagine going to work supposedly stripping around people who have the anatomy of the opposite sex,” Houghtelling said. “How would that make you feel? Safe? Comfortable? Because that’s what we expect from our kids.

She asked members of the public to stand up if they supported her message. Almost the whole room was standing. A number of parents in subsequent comments cited a sexual assault case in Virginia involving a teenager described as gender fluid by their parents.

Later in the meeting, advisory board member Jeff Taylor apologized to Houghtelling “for this one that got away from us” and applauded the parents who raised the issue.

Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District School Board Transgender Students

“Christal, I’m sorry,” Taylor said. “You went through hell. You told what happened to your daughter. I’m sorry about that.”

Houghtelling declined to be interviewed for this story. Taylor did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

All of the public testimony over the past week has supported the policy change. The council limited testimony to one hour despite a standing-only hearing with more outsiders as well as people who had hoped to testify by phone but were unable to, several attendees said this week.

“misleading” situation

District officials did not provide specific information about the Colony locker room incident. Feuilles said he did not know the student involved.

But, he said, he could imagine a situation involving a transgender girl beginning at least the “social” transition phase where she adjusts to new names and gender-conforming habits, possibly using hormones but still far from any surgery modifying the genital organs.

For transgender youth and the adults who support them, Taylor’s apology felt like “a kind of slap in the face,” Leaves said, as did the constant implication in the testimony that they are predators.

Using a gender-conforming bathroom is not an arbitrary day-to-day decision, he said. District guidelines specify students with a consistent pattern of gender identity whose preferred school is outlined in a plan filed by families in coordination with the school administration.

“The idea that it’s a boy in female spaces is really misleading, because we’re not talking about a boy. We’re talking about a trans girl,” Leaves said. don’t go there to show off… In fact, the trans women and young trans people I know really want to get into the space and do what they need to do, as discreetly and quickly as possible. they can.”

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