Kalispell school officials craft gender guidelines

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Kalispell Public Schools administrators have crafted a set of administrative guidelines for working with transgender and gender-nonconforming students.

The guidelines are designed to cultivate a safe environment free of discrimination or harassment “regardless of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.”

The guidelines are a result of a revision to the district’s Equal Education, Nondiscrimination and Sex Equity Policy.

In August, the policy was amended to add “gender identity, sexual orientation or gender expression” to the list of protected classes.

The extensive document outlines the purpose of the guidelines, the process in addressing needs of transgender and gender-nonconforming students; pertinent terminology related to gender; maintaining student privacy and official records; responding to discrimination or harassment; professional development and applicable federal and state laws and district policies.

Although other Montana Class AA school districts have provided input into the guidelines, Great Falls Public Schools, which revised its policy in January, did “the lion’s share of creating this document,” Kalispell Superintendent Mark Flatau said.

The administrative guidelines provide a framework for establishing a student plan, if necessary, on a case-by-case basis to reasonably accommodate requests students may have regarding names and pronouns, dress code, transitions, restroom/locker room use and participation in athletics.

Restrooms, locker rooms and sports have been hot topics within the community during discussions about the policy revision.

Restroom use was once again brought up at a school board work session Tuesday when the document was brought before trustees as information.

According to the current draft of the document, use of male or female restrooms “is allowed based on the gender the student or employee was assigned at birth, unless the student has physically/medically transitioned to the opposite gender. This would require additional documentation.”

The guidelines do provide an alternative: “As a reasonable accommodation to ensure the student has access to educational opportunity, any transgender or gender-nonconforming student who is uncomfortable using a shared restroom or locker room of his assigned gender, regardless of the reason, shall, upon request, be provided with a safe and non-stigmatizing alternative” such as unisex or single-occupant restrooms.

Restroom use was a point of concern for audience member Paige Rappleye of Love Lives Here Flathead. Rappleye said to just state that students who have “physically/medically transitioned” is too vague. If it entails a minor having to undergo medical procedures or hormonal treatments, that sets the bar too high, she added.

“The whole document is wonderful and is awesome and is welcoming, but now you need to show us more in order to use the bathroom,” Rappleye said. “You need to have surgery to use that room? This child isn’t possibly ready to do that or can afford to do that. Most of the time they can’t even do hormone therapy until they’re 14.”

Board Chairman Joe Brenneman said the guidelines aren’t setting hard and fast rules for administrators.

“I expect them to have the flexibility and the insight to say in this instance this is what’s best for this student,” Brenneman said. “If we want to spend our time trying to create a document that addresses every conceivable scenario of students who are going to come before us, we’re not going to do it, so we draw up guidelines and this is what we hire professionals to implement so that’s what I think we’re doing tonight.”

In regard to athletics, the document defers to Montana High School Association rules. At an annual meeting last winter, the association withdrew a proposal that would have let transgender students compete in sports of a gender different than the student’s sex at birth.

Trustees overall commended the breadth of the administrative guidelines. Brenneman reminded everyone that unlike policies, which require three readings before they are adopted by the board, this document is an administrative function and does not require board action.

While minor clarifications and edits will be made, the intent of the guidelines will not, Flatau said.

“It’s safe to say any guideline we adopt will not be 100 percent agreed-to. You’re going to have some that feel this wording is too harsh and others who feel this wording is not harsh enough. Finding a middle ground that works for Kalispell Public Schools is, I think, important and that’s what we’re trying to develop,” Flatau said.

Trustee Jack Fallon added, “The way I view this is we haven’t developed the procedures yet. These are guidelines from which will evolve procedures.”

For situations that haven’t been anticipated or addressed, students may go through a complaint process, Fallon said.

A revised draft of the administrative guidelines will be brought before the board at the next school board work session at 6 p.m. Nov. 24 at the Kalispell Middle School library.

Hilary Matheson is a reporter for The Daily Inter Lake. She may be reached at 758-4431 or hmatheson@dailyinterlake.com.

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