Local educators react to feds’ guidelines on transgender protection

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The White House is reaffirming their stand on one of the most divisive social issues to hit the country in a long time.

Friday, the Obama administration issued a directive opening up bathrooms and locker rooms to transgender people attending public schools and colleges that receive federal funding.

Violate the directive and schools risks losing those funds, and could be sued by the government under Title IX, the federal law protecting students from discrimination.

Some area schools appear to already be in compliance with most of the White House directive.

“We see this as consistent with Title IX, and quite frankly, we see this as the right thing to do,” said Kimberly DeVries, equal opportunity compliance director at Grand Rapids Community College.

On the GRCC campus, transgender students are called upon in class by the name they identify with, not necessarily their given name.

They can use the bathroom and locker room they feel best fits their identity, as opposed to the one assigned to their gender.

The goal of the policy adopted last August is to give transgender students a comfortable, safe learning environment.

“We don’t want you to come back to school and try to focus on math or chemistry or English and not feel safe on campus,” DeVries said.

As for students who may not feel safe with a transgender student walking into the locker room, DeVries says there haven’t been any problems.

“Sure, we would respond to those and we certainly balance those.”

At Rockford Public Schools, plans were already in the worked to establish family bathrooms at the middle, freshman and high school buildings for transgender and other students who don’t feel comfortable sharing gender assigned bathrooms.

The district’s supported an LGBT club on campus for about a decade.

But Superintendent Michael Shibler says when it comes to the directive’s locker room policy, it doesn’t take into account everybody’s rights.

“It’s just not acceptable. It’s not acceptable for what we need to do as a public school system,” said Shibler.

It’s not just the rights of students involved.

It’s money.

The administration’s threat to withhold federal funds from schools that don’t comply could cost Rockford Public Schools $2 million annually.

But Shibler says there is a lack of common sense in the locker room argument, and he uses the example of a group of 14-year-old girls in a locker room.

“… And a boy walks in there because he felt he had the right to be there because in his mind he’s a girl.  That would be very disruptive and disturbing to those 14-year-old girls,” said Shibler.

So the long-time Rockford superintend has penned a letter to the local congressional delegation and other politicians, asking to help public schools navigate through this issue.

“And to come up with policy that is common sense, that protects the rights of all students,” said Shibler.

“And that means the vast majority of the students who believe that they are heterosexual and that they are going to feel safe in the bathroom or locker room that identifies with their birth gender.”

There has also been a major debate in Lansing over guidelines proposed by the state board of education.

One difference between the two, the federal guidelines call from parental consent in the case of underage students declaring a gender, while the state’s policy does not.

State Superintendent Brian Whiston released a statement saying the board will review the federal guidance and see how it aligns with the state board’s draft guidance.

“We are committed to listening and being considerate of that input, and shaping ultimate guidance that encourages schools to appropriately engage parents and flexibly determine bathroom and locker room policies that increase safety, and improve school engagement while respecting the dignity and rights of all students, including LGBTQ children,” said Whiston in the statement.

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