POULSBO — The North Kitsap School Board adopted a policy on Nov. 13 that requires the district to provide a safe and discrimination-free learning environment for transgender students.
The policy requires all schools to have a common approach to transgender students with regard to records, health and education information, communication, restroom and locker room accessibility, sports and more. The policy allows transgender students to attend school in the way they identify themselves, providing an equal opportunity for learning and achievement.
The transgender policy was not mandated by the federal or state governments.
A non-discrimination policy in the district was adopted in 1999 and revised four times. The policy included language that protects students’ “gender expression and identity.”
However, Lynette Baisch, who provides legal counsel for the district, said how districts handle situations that arise with transgender students can be difficult. Having a policy in place will give staff guidance, she said during a review of the policy on Sept. 25.
The adopted policy was based on a model policy by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction and the Washington State School Directors’ Association. The agencies recommended districts adopted a transgender policy, Superintendent Patty Page said.
“There aren’t that many districts that have adopted the policy,” Page said.
The Mukilteo School Board adopted a similar policy on Nov. 24, according to the Daily Herald of Everett. That policy was adopted without comment, the newspaper reported.
The North Kitsap policy protects transgender students from bullying and affirms they can use appropriate facilities in accordance with local, state and federal laws. A transgender student does not need to notify anyone at school of being transgender.
The adopted policy comes at a time when parents are learning their students are transgender at a younger age. “It is not something new, but it is something that is being recognized earlier,” Page said. With access to more resources, especially digital resources, there’s the opportunity for parents to do research earlier, she said.
The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, or WIAA, has its own process a student must undergo to participate in a sport as a gender opposite of which he or she was born. The process requires a written statement from the student and parents or guardians, documentation from other people which affirm the student is consistent with the gender identification, written verification from a health care professional of the student’s consistent gender identification, and medical documentation that the student is going through hormonal therapy/gender reassignment, surgery, and counseling. Schools can approve or deny the student’s participation; an appeal process exists.
Though a transgender student does not need to go through a process to use a restroom for the gender he or she identifies with, locker room use requires the same procedure as sports participation — locker room use falls under the same WIAA rules.
The potential issue of transgender students using a locker room or restroom with the gender they identify with was discussed during the
Sept. 25 school board meeting. Board director Scott Henden raised concern. He said a person identified as female, but having male sex organs, showering in the female locker room might not be safe.
“We talk about safe environments,” Henden said. “I don’t think that’s safe.”
If the district did not allow a transgender student to use the restroom for the gender he or she identifies with, it could be a discriminatory act, Baisch said.
“You are discriminating if you don’t let someone use the locker room they identify with,” she told the school board.
Board President Beth Worthington said some students may be uncomfortable sharing a locker room with transgender students. Baisch said a student, whether transgender or not, could be allowed a private space to change in, for example.
For students who claim to be transgender but are not, the district will “take appropriate action,” assistant superintendent Chris Willits said Sept. 25.
Page said the district knows of some transgender students. There is no data on how many transgender students attend North Kitsap schools, she said.
Students who are transgender may choose not to reveal that fact, Page said.
Page said the policy did not draw much attention until it was highlighted in the media, she said. Since then, the district has received a call and a few emails, she said.