School district soon to start antidiscrimination policy review

  • By Kelly Sullivan
  • Sunday, August 14, 2016 10:01pm
  • News

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District will soon seek public input on the decision to add the terms “sex,” “gender identity” and “sexual orientation” into its student nondiscrimination policy, informally known as the “transgender student policy.”

Administrators will receive legal advice on how best to address the issue next month and will present a potential policy implementation timeline to the Board of Education during the Sept. 12 regularly scheduled meeting at Homer High School.

“We are monitoring the legal situations all over the country and before we go leaping into that lake we are going to find out what happens with the rest of the country in the process, what the legal requirements are,” said Joe Arness, board president. “But nothing is going to happen quickly, I can assure you.”

Currently, board policy and Alaska statute on nondiscrimination do not directly address gender identity.

Arness said there are no plans to change school district policy during the upcoming school year.

“You will know it if it does,” he said. “Let me put it to you that way.”

Superintendent Sean Dusek said there is a possibility, depending on how quickly the process unfolds, that action may be taken within the next few months.

“…And, or if there is going to be some sort of a change we’ll work through that but as President Arness said, we will publicize quite heavily so that you can weigh in at any point in time, probably over the next several months, so something could happen,” Dusek said.

Administrative and board action is coming up now after national responses to a joint letter composed and released by the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education on May 13, titled “Dear Colleague,” according to a board memo.

The document outlines the Department of Education’s interpretation of Title IX, Education Amendments of 1972. The federal title’s regulations include the prohibition of sex discrimination based on a student’s transgendered status, according to the letter.

“A school must not treat a transgender student differently from the way it treats other students of the same gender identity,” according to the department’s letter.

In a letter of his own, Alaska Attorney General Craig Richards advised the state’s 53 public school districts on June 21 that each would individually decide how to respond to the federal document. Alaska does not tell school districts how to address or develop transgender policies, “consistent with its tradition of strong local control of school,” he wrote.

“Although the (federal) letter has the look of informal, non-binding advice, it appears to carry the implied threat of costly litigation and the potential loss of federal funds,” Richards wrote. “However, the guidance letter places school districts in an unenviable position because it has not yet been determined whether the (U.S.) Department of Education’s interpretation is based on an accurate reading of the applicable law or will be considered by the courts to be an inappropriate effort to expand the law outside of the democratic process.”

Richards suggests school districts make decisions based on a combination of community input and legal counsel, and not solely in response to the guidance letter.

“If districts face legal challenges or are threatened with the loss of federal education dollars, the State of Alaska will work to support districts and their right to direct these policies at the local level,” he wrote.

The school district’s Policy Review Committee first proposed the language changes in May and included how changes may relate to student privacy, identification to school staff and administrators, athletics and dress code.

At the end of the Aug. 8 board meeting, board member Bill Holt said the board and school district administrators have been doing actively working to address the issue.

“We just want to make sure that we don’t do something that is going to cause a lot of reactions,” he said. “We want to look at all the aspects of the issue and we want to make sure that we are really treating all of our kids fairly.”

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