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Transgender issues aired at Starpoint

PENDLETON – The Starpoint Board of Education gave a first reading Monday to a new policy that would allow students with male genitals to use the girls’ locker rooms and restrooms, and vice versa, if they consistently assert a different gender identity.

Superintendent C. Douglas Whalen said the policy on student gender identity was state mandated, in a dispatch from the Education Department in July. “This is something all boards will face,” he said.

Whalen said he has just learned that Starpoint has two high school students to which this would apply but that he didn’t know any details about them.

Such students must be consistent in their transgender assertions, Whalen said. “It’s not going to be a thing where a kid can come into the office and say, ‘Today I’d like to go into the girls’ locker room,’ ” he said.

The policy grew out of the state Dignity for All Students Act of 2012 and the federal law dating from 1972 that bars discrimination in any educational program that receives federal funds.

“It talks about providing students with an environment free of discrimination,” Whalen said. “We are not allowed to discriminate based on a child’s preference as to gender.”

The text of the policy originated with the one prepared by Erie 1 Board of Cooperative Educational Services. Included in the policy is a vocabulary unit. A person who plans to stay with his or her sex from birth is to be called “cisgender.” A child who “does not conform to social or stereotypical expectations of a person with that gender assigned at birth” is called GNC, for “gender nonconforming.”

“District staff will use the name and pronoun that corresponds to the gender identity the student consistently asserts at school,” the policy says. “The district will allow a transgender or GNC student to use the restroom and locker room that corresponds to the students’ consistently expressed gender identity at school.”

Board President Michael D. Zimmerman said that paragraph is the one that he questions. “As a parent, I have a problem saying my son or daughter has to be exposed,” he said. Zimmerman questioned why one student’s rights might supersede the rights of 40 others. The policy says the district can’t force transgender students to use separate facilities.

“We’re required by law to maintain student confidentiality,” Whalen said.

“We have to provide an area where they’re part of a certain locker room but without discrimination.”

Whalen said, “The word ‘flexible’ should be used a lot here – a flexible plan that helps these students out while taking the other students into account.”

The policy said a transgender or GNC student may be allowed to conceal that from his parents, to the extent that the district might have to keep two sets of records under different names.

Whalen said he wonders in such cases, “What name should be on the report card?”

When it comes to sports teams and physical-education classes, the policy says, “Students will be allowed to participate in a manner consistent with their gender identity.”

However, the district has to determine a student’s eligibility for interscholastic sports by trying to “confirm the student’s asserted gender identity with documentation it considers appropriate.”

Sources for that would include parents, counselors, doctors and psychiatrists. Any appeal of the district’s decision would go straight to the state education commissioner, and opposing teams would be informed “if a student needs any accommodations during competitions.”

The board made no schedule to adopt the policy. “I think we should extend the process a little bit,” board Vice President Joseph Miller said, adding that he expects there to be a lot of public concern.