May 19, 2024

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SMSD dodges questions about transgender policy

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The Shawnee Mission School District has declined to answer questions about its “Transgender Practices & FAQ,” a document obtained by the Sentinel as part of an open records request.

The document enumerates guidelines for teachers and staff — as well as students — within the district.

The document — as the Sentinel previously reported — specifically states the SMSD Board of Education has not adopted a “transgender-specific” policy and “The current practice in SMSD is for administration to evaluate requests for accommodations on a case-by-case basis, and to develop an individual plan for each student.”

Questions go unanswered

The metadata contained within the PDF provided to the Sentinel indicates the document was created on May 15, 2023, three days after the initial records request. It is unclear if the document has been widely circulated within the district prior to the Sentinel’s request or was created in response to articles by the Sentinel and in the Lion detailing criticism of the district’s handling of these issues by Shawnee Mission North teacher Caedran Sullivan.

The Sentinel reached out to the district on June 1, 2023, with several questions, asking: 

  •  If this is SMSD policy, why has it not been formally voted on by the SMSD BOE?
  • If a staff member or student fails to follow this “guidance,” will there be any consequences?
  • How long has this guidance been in effect, and what is the original source of the document? 
  • When was this first promulgated among staff?

As of publication, the district has not responded.

Parental notification on overnight trips is not required

Perhaps most disturbing is the section which addresses overnight trips.

“This should be a discussion with the student and their family, with an individualized solution,” the FAQ reads. “Present the transgender student and their family with a range of options, including their own private room or work with them on selecting a roommate of their choice. In cases where a transgender student selects a roommate of their gender identity, it is appropriate, with the student’s consent, for the Administrator to have a conversation with the roommate’s parents informing them of the request.” [Emphasis added.]

While this section seems to assume that a transgender student’s parents are aware of their status, nowhere in the document is there a requirement to inform all parents, and the language makes clear that a biological boy could be housed with a biological girl without the girl’s parents being made aware of it.

A new state law recently passed will compel changes to this policy.  House Bill 2138 stipulates that separate overnight accommodations must be provided for students of each biological sex.  Effective July 1, each district must adopt a policy describing how notifications will be handled and share that policy with parents.  The Kansas School Board Resource Center (KSBRC) suggests a model policy that requires student and parental notification of all room assignments at least seven days in advance of departure and also creates a process for requesting changes in room assignments.

Like the Sentinel, KSBRC is a subsidiary of Kansas Policy Institute.

Justification includes reference to Title IX that is not settled

The district cites “Policy AC,” the District’s non-discrimination/non-harassment policy, which “strictly prohibits any form of discrimination or harassment toward students, staff, or visitors based on a protected classification, including gender identity. Policy AC confirms the District’s commitment to comply with Title IX, which prohibits discrimination based on gender identity.”

However, it remains unclear if Title IX addresses gender identity. In late December, the 11th Circuit court, sitting en banc, ruled Title IX’s protections do not include “gender identity.

The document also gives detailed instructions for changing a student’s “nickname” in the district’s student management system.

The document, which has been described as “guidance,” nevertheless does not give teachers, staff, or students who may have personal or religious objections to the instructions within.

The document begins by stating: “The Shawnee Mission School District is committed to (1) fostering an educational environment that is safe, welcoming, and free from stigma and discrimination for all students, regardless of gender identity or expression; (2) facilitating compliance with local, state and federal laws concerning bullying, harassment, discrimination, and privacy; and (3) ensuring that all students have the opportunity to express themselves and live authentically. All of our students, including transgender and non-binary students, must feel safe and supported in schools and have equal access to education and educational facilities.”

For example, the FAQ states: “All students have the right to be addressed by the name and pronouns that correspond to the gender identity they assert at school. School staff and peers are expected to respect a student’s name and pronouns once they have been made aware.” [Emphasis added.]

Moreover, the FAQ has several flow charts for things like “gender-specific name/pronoun change requests” and says, “The building administrator, in consultation first with the student, will be responsible for ensuring that the student’s request is honored while working to engage and include the family.” [Emphasis added.]

Note, this is for formal requests to change a name or pronoun, which would require approval from family — which a change to “nickname” would not, and the document also provides instructions for printing out a list of “preferred names.” 

The document also instructs that “Transgender and gender expansive students must be provided access to facilities (restrooms, locker rooms, or changing rooms) consistent with their gender identity asserted at school. A transgender or gender-expansive student may not be required to use a single-gender facility or a facility that conflicts with the student’s gender identity asserted at school. However, schools must provide reasonable alternative arrangements for any student who expresses a need or desire for increased privacy.”

This is apparently intended to be in conformance with Title IX; however, in a 50-page majority opinion, Judge Barbara Lagoa wrote that the St. John’s County, Florida, school board policy challenged in a lawsuit, which requires students to use bathrooms corresponding with their biological sex does not violate Title IX and  “advances the important governmental objective of protecting students’ privacy in school bathrooms.” 

The decision conflicts with the Fourth Circuit’s decision in G.G. v. Gloucester County, which found a school board discriminated against a transgender student by requiring the use of restrooms corresponding with biological sex. That case was appealed to the United States Supreme Court, which declined to hear it.

It does not appear that the Adams decision has been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and does not specifically apply in Kansas, however.

 

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