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Utah BOE crafts transgender student guidelines, to face continued review

By Tim Vandenack - Standard-Examiner | Jan 24, 2022

Johnny Morris, Special to the Daily Herald

Genderbands hosts the first Utah Transgender Pride on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019, at Lions Park in Provo.

SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah State Board of Education committee has drafted a new set of proposed guidelines governing transgender students and gender-identity issues, an area largely untouched in state education policy.

“This is new territory for us. It’s what the district and charter schools have been asking of us,” said Mark Peterson, the board of education spokesperson. The guidelines — under discussion since last September — will be the focus of debate at a meeting of the Utah BOE Standards and Assessment Committee on Wednesday, though the review process will continue beyond that.

The guidelines note that transgender students have a higher risk of facing discrimination, bullying, reduced academic achievement, family rejection and more. Broadly, they aim to create space for transgender and gender-nonconforming students.

“To mitigate risk and foster a learning environment that is safe and respectful of all students, schools must work collaboratively with all transgender and gender-nonconforming students and their families,” read the draft guidelines. “This collaboration, combined with comprehensive policies and implementation plans, will provide transgender and gender-nonconforming students with an equal opportunity to be fully engaged in the school environment and to achieve academic success.”

On the issue of transgender girls and other students participating in high school sports — a focus of intense debate — the proposed framework defers to Utah High School Activities Association guidelines. Generally speaking, those guidelines state that male to female transgender students — focus of particular scrutiny in Utah and beyond — may participate on a girls team, but only if they’ve completed a year of hormone treatment as part of the gender-transition process.

Beyond that, the draft Utah Board of Education guidelines touch on things like provision of bathrooms and changing areas, dress codes, formation of LGBTQ clubs and use of names and pronouns, among other things. More specifically:

Dress codes: Dress codes “should encompass reasonable guidelines that are not gender specific and are free of gender stereotypes,” the proposed guidelines read.

Per an example provided in the draft document, male students would be able to wear dresses if the garb doesn’t otherwise violate school policy. “A student whose gender expression is different from societal expectations should not be considered disruptive,” reads the proposed policy.

Bathrooms: “Students should have access to facilities that correspond to their consistently asserted gender identity. A transgender student should not be compelled to use an alternative restroom,” read the proposed guidelines.

On the other hand, if transgender, cisgender or students of other gender identities are uncomfortable with group facilities, “schools should make every effort to provide the student with reasonable access to an alternative facility.”

Pronouns, names: Students “have the right to be addressed by names and pronouns that correspond to their consistently asserted gender identities,” the guidelines state.

However, requests “to be identified by an alternative name or nickname that is not a derivation of the student’s given name” will be referred to a school rep for consideration. The same goes for students asking to be identified by a pronoun “that does not align with the commonly used pronoun associated with their sex listed on the official school record.”

Clubs: Schools that allow student clubs must let them form LGBTQ-affirming clubs like gay-straight alliances.

Peterson said the guidelines, if ultimately approved by the elected members of the Utah State Board of Education, wouldn’t be mandatory in individual schools. Rather, they’d serve as guidance for individual schools dealing with the relevant issues.

As is, Ogden School District lacks a policy specific to transgender students or gender-identity issues, said Jer Bates, the district spokesperson. Rather, the district follows federal laws and federal Title IX guidelines, which touch on discrimination issues relevant to gender.

“Our practice regarding students with any need related to gender identity is to respect the dignity, confidentiality and expression of the student while working with the student and their family to ensure a safe and comfortable learning environment,” Bates said.

Information on polices in the Weber and Davis school districts wasn’t immediately available.

Scott Hansen, the state school board member serving as chairperson of the BOE Standards and Assessment Committee, said the policy proposal has been discussed and revised several times since last September.

Because the board isn’t considering a formal rule, public comment isn’t required on the proposed guidelines, Hansen said. But the committee wants feedback “given the interest and sensitivities related to the subject matter.”

After the guidelines are put to the public for comment, presuming the process proceeds, they would return to the committee “for final review and revision,” said Hansen, who’s from the Liberty area. Then the full board would consider them.

Wednesday’s meeting of the BOE Standards and Assessment Committee starts at 6 p.m. and will be held virtually. It will be streamed to the public at youtube.com/c/USBEMedia.

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