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School District mulls policy change for transgender students
A change in state law and the way Washington schools address non-discrimination policies has some Sequim residents concerned about how those policies will be enforced in local schools.
State law requires public school districts to have policies in place that prohibit discrimination. New, strengthened language protecting transgender students has school districts — including
Sequim’s — considering changes to policy toward those students.
The policy change consideration drew concern from several school advocates last week, primarily at the prospect of allowing students to choose whether they use the boys’, girls’ or private restrooms and locker rooms.
“The purpose of the policy is to align with state law,” Sequim schools superintendent Kelly Shea said at the district’s board meeting July 21. “We have transgender students in our high school. We’ve worked closely with our families (and) have had no issues to this point.”
School board director Bev Horan noted that Sequim schools have facilities that are available to students of many needs, including restrooms in a nurse’s office or in the Life Skills room.
“Some (feel they) are only able to use a private restroom. Students work things out with our counselors, nurse, office staff, psychologists,” Horan said.
“The unintended consequences are disrupting transgender students and other students,” Sequim resident Jerry Sinn told the school board of directors July 21. “(The policy) doesn’t respect the rights of the other students. All children should have equal access to education. The issues (of transgender students’ rights) becomes problematic.”
Sinn added, “It puts the school board in a precarious position,” regarding other students’ rights to privacy.
Tiffani Mote, mother of four children in the school district, asked the board who would monitor the bathrooms and whether students would need to register as transgender before school started.
“It is a slippery slope,” Mote said of the policy change. “Truly, if we are tolerant, we don’t need this.”
Port Angeles resident Jon Didrickson added, “It’s not a problem to show respect to different people. I think this policy goes way beyond that.”
Bonnie Bless-Boenish, former teacher for the Sequim School District, offered a differing view after meeting several transgender individuals.
“Some of these students couldn’t freely use restrooms,” Bless-Boenish said.
“To be afraid … really disrupts education,” she said. “Students are smart enough to figure out they are going to the nurse’s room or Living Skills (restroom).”
Bless-Boenish encouraged the board to consider offering transgender students another option, “so there isn’t a stigma,” noting that Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe’s rest area in Blyn has unmarked, unisex restrooms.
The Sequim School District, Shea said, has not yet dealt with the issue of transgender students using locker rooms for classes or extracurricular activities.
“This affects a lot of people,” Shea said. “There will come a time when someone who was born a boy who identifies as a girl will demand the right to use a girl’s restroom. If they have that right (and the school district denies them access), the school district would be put in a position of discrimination. We make sure we go through each point in the policy to make sure we aren’t discriminating,” he said.
Horan noted that the July 21 look at the policy was just the first reading and that the board once again will take a look at the policy on Aug. 4.
From there, Shea and staff develop a procedure based on that policy addressing what to do in specific situations regarding transgender students.
Sinn suggested the district form a committee with community representatives to develop alternatives to those procedures.
Sequim School Board meeting
When: 7 p.m., Monday Aug. 4
Where: School boardroom, 503 N. Sequim Ave.
On the agenda: Appointment of fifth school board director, policy regarding transgender students, more
More info: Call 582-3260
Reach editor Michael Dashiell at email@example.com.