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Transgender policies on docket

Schools ponder logistics of making accommodations

— The Omak School Board will consider an anti-discrimination policy and procedures dealing with transgender students when it meets at 10 a.m. today in the district office, 619 W. Bartlett Ave.

Districts throughout the state are tackling similar policies in response to a state legislative mandate to address discrimination against students who gender identify with the opposite sex. The policy is part of a broader update of all student-related policies.

Among other provisions, Omak’s proposed transgender procedures address accommodations the district would make for students, including use of restroom and shower facilities.

“Students will be allowed to use the restroom that corresponds to the gender identity they assert at school. No student will be required to use a restroom that conflicts with his or her gender identity,” the procedure reads.

For locker room accessibility, the district should, in most cases, “provide the student access to the locker room that corresponds to the gender identity they assert at school,” the document continues.

Reasonable alternatives can be provided, including use of a private area or a separate changing schedule.

The document also talks

See Policies A10

about how to address such students (use of gender-based pronouns), maintenance of student records, dress codes, sports and PE participation and other school activities. In the case of sports participation, the district would work with the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association’s gender identity participation procedure.

Superintendent Erik Swanson said the policy was screened by the Washington State School Directors Association legal staff to comply with state and federal civil rights laws.

In practice, though, he doesn’t anticipate students crossing over into each other’s restrooms or locker rooms.

“For the foreseeable future, we will continue to use male and female locker and restroom facilities in the traditional manner,” he said. “The new policy provides for ‘alternative arrangements.’ If a student self-identifies as transgender or their parents bring this issue, we will follow the alternative arrangement provisions of the procedure and identify appropriate restroom or locker facilities as suggested in the procedure.”

The district’s existing facilities “are not designed for the new legal opinions impacting our policies,” he said.

Meanwhile, Okanogan last Wednesday adopted its own transgender policy, which is different from Omak’s proposed policy.

Superintendent Richard Johnson said the policy he put before the board was stripped of all but the bare minimum required to comply with the law.

The district has enough private restroom and shower facilities that transgender students wouldn’t have to use facilities designated for the opposite sex, he said.

The state put school boards in a tough position with the policy, since a legislative mandate policy has to be adopted, Johnson said.

“It can bring personal fines or imprisonment against board members” if mandated policies aren’t adopted, he told the board. “If you don’t accept it, you are breaking Washington law.”

The policy passed on a 4-0 vote. One board position is vacant.

Outside the meeting, Johnson said he thinks a lot of voters “don’t realize the state votes these policies in, then requires local boards to adopt them, and then hires auditors to go around the state and make sure their policies are on the board’s books. In this way, the state legislators can say it was not them but the local boards that voted such policies in place.”

Other districts in the area also are tackling transgender policies.

The Chronicle contacted superintendents of all the districts in Okanogan and Ferry counties for comment; some did not reply by deadline.

“This issue is covered in our district non-discrimination policy 3210 that was adopted in February 2011 by using gender expression as a protected class,” Grand Coulee Dam Superintendent Dennis Carlson said. The policy is on the district’s website.

He said the district now has limited access to private showers, but its new building – under construction and expected to be completed next fall – will have several private showers available for staff and students.

Methow Valley School District Superintendent Tom Venable said his district doesn’t yet have a policy.

“We have a policy development committee and, as with all new policies or revisions to policies that come out via WSSDA, we’ll be spending some time making sense of the transgender policy and what that will look like in the Methow Valley,” he said. “I think a variety of our districts are working to make sense of what this looks like, both regionally as well as locally.”

The committee - comprising Venable, two school board members, the executive secretary and any individuals with knowledge about the subject - plans to meet in late April or early May to start coming up with recommendations for drafting policy language, Venable said.

Pateros School District also hasn’t established a policy yet, Superintendent Lois Davies said.

The Oroville district isn’t going to adopt the sample policy at this time, Superintendent Steve Quick said.

“If we do have a student who meets the definition of being transgender or has gender identity issues, we will work individually with this student to create a plan to ensure that individual student rights for all students are being respected,” he said. “We do not see the need for the broad steps that are outlined currently in the sample WSSDA policy and corresponding procedures.”

Republic Superintendent Kyle Rydell said his district hasn’t yet considered a transgender policy either, but anticipates taking up the topic in June or July.

Johnson there’s a move afoot to call policies and procedures “Washington State Policies and Procedures” and not by the name of local school districts.

“It appears this is more and more the case,” he said. “It is always kind of interesting when a local board/superintendent has to call the state to try and figure out what their policy means so they can explain it to the public. Like I said, I don’t think the people really understand who really makes and approve policies that go into every local board policy book.”

-Reporter Jennifer Marshall contributed to this story.

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