LGBTQ guidance from Lansing misses mark

In a memorandum dated Feb. 23, 2016, with the subject, “Presentation on State Board of Education Statement and Guidance on Safe and Supportive Learning Environments for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning (LGBTQ) Students,” the state board of education is proposed new guidance for the treatment of these students.

Right now, it is in draft. By May, the state board of education plans to vote on this new guidance. Then it becomes state policy.

Parents may review this draft memorandum at: http://www.michigan.gov/documents/mde/Item_B_SBE_Statement_and_Guidance_on_LGBTQ_515608_7.pdf. Some of the provisions are perfectly reasonable, but others are controversial. I’ve included some of the controversial provisions from this memorandum below in no particular order.

“Names and pronouns. School staff should address students by their chosen name and pronouns that correspond to their gender identity, regardless of whether there has been a legal name change. Upon request, the chosen name and gender should be included in the district’s information management systems, in addition to the student’s legal name. District-generated student email addresses should also reflect the student’s chosen name, if first names are identifiable in such addresses. These changes inform all staff, including substitute teachers, of the name and pronoun to use when addressing the student, and help avoid inadvertent disclosures.”

“Restrooms. Students should be allowed to use the restroom in accordance with their gender identity. Alternative and non-stigmatizing options, such as an all-gender or single user restroom (e.g., staff bathroom or nurse’s office), should be made available to students who request them, but not presented as the only option. Any student who has a need or desire for increased privacy, regardless of underlying reasons, has the right to access a single-user restroom.”

“Dress code. Students should have the right to express their gender at school, within the parameters of the school’s dress code, without discrimination or harassment. The school’s dress code should be gender-neutral and not restrict a student’s clothing choices on the basis of gender. In the event that the dress code has differing expectations or practices based on gender, students should be permitted to dress in accordance with their gender identity.”

I don’t mean to diminish the importance of gender identity. It is a very serious problem for some. Schools should be sensitive to this problem and take steps to prevent harassment for students who face this.

On the other hand, the state board of education should hold educational considerations higher than any other consideration. Balancing the rights of LGBTQ students against educational objectives is a delicate thing.

Let me offer some practical situations to illustrate this balancing:

1. Should teachers or other students be punished or sanctioned if they refer to George as “he,” when “she” is George’s preferred pronoun?

2. Should George be allowed to use the girls’ restroom? Is that fair to girls who do not want a biological male in their restroom?

3. Is education served by permitting George to wear a dress to class? It is highly unlikely that the biological gender of any student will remain a secret so how disruptive will it be in the classroom when a biological boy wears feminine clothes or takes a feminine name or if a girl does the opposite?

Even a misplaced smile from a boy in a dress or otherwise adopting a female persona will provoke some boys. I predict major disruptions as schools make adjustments according to this new policy. Major disruptions will interfere with the primary purpose of schools, which is to educate our youth.

Finally, the role of parents or guardians of students under the age of 18 needs developing in this guidance.

I urge Niles parents make their concerns known about this new policy. People can begin this process by communicating with the Niles school district administration and by communicating with Representative Dave Pagel and Senator John Proos.

 

Michael Waldron is a retired lieutenant colonel, U.S. Army, who was born and raised in Niles. He previously served on the Niles Community School Board of Education. He can be reached at ml.waldron@sbcglobal.net.

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