The Baraboo School Board is scheduled to take a final vote Monday on a new policy that would establish guidelines for including transgender students in co-curricular activities.
More than a dozen community members voiced opposition to the policy at the last board meeting, and people on both sides of the issue plan to speak out during Monday’s public comments.
All board members except Ed Mortimer approved the policy on its first reading Nov. 24.
School officials said the policy, introduced to the board last month, is based on a Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association policy passed last year, and similar guidelines developed by other states and the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
Deputy WIAA Director Wade Labecki said the association approved its policy to ensure member schools had guidelines for transgender students’ participation in sports.
“We felt that we needed to be proactive,” Labecki said, citing U.S. Department of Education guidance that transgender students are protected under Title IX, a federal law that prohibits discrimination based on sex in federally funded activities and education programs.
School districts in Oshkosh and the Milwaukee area already have established their own transgender student athletics participation policies.
“It’s a question that comes up probably three to four times a year, on how to address that issue,” Labecki said, adding that he has fielded questions from rural and urban districts across the state.
Denying transgender students equal access to sports and activities could have legal ramifications for schools, he said. Labecki said some people want to debate what they believe to be the moral implications of such policies.
“We don’t debate that,” he said.
More discussion sought
Ginny Maziarka, of Baraboo, said she attended the Nov. 24 school board meeting because she believed community concerns had been disregarded by board members.
Maziarka said she didn’t learn about the policy until it was going to be up for a final vote. She said she believes that the board should initiate a forum for community dialogue about the policy.
“Most everyone, everyone I talked to about it didn’t know about it,” said the grandmother, whose grandchildren do not live within the school district.
Maziarka said that as a taxpayer, she doesn’t believe the district has developed an adequate plan to implement the proposed policy.
Maziarka said she believes the policy would contribute to a breakdown of “the natural inhibitions of students,” ignore differences between the sexes and compromise student privacy.
She said she’s also concerned about the issue from a facilities standpoint, including the cost of any modifications that might need to be made to locker rooms.
“What has the district determined to be an equitable facility?” Maziarka asked.
Maziarka said she’d like to see Monday’s vote on the proposal tabled until a community forum can be held.
Concerns about facilities
The official second reading of the policy was delayed last month when former school board member Scott Frostman, who spoke during the public comments section of the Nov. 24 meeting, said he didn’t believe the policy had been appropriately read aloud.
Frostman, whose son attends Baraboo High School, and daughter attends a local religious school, said he recently asked board members and district officials for a copy of a written plan for implementing the participation policy but received no materials.
He said he is concerned about how the district will ensure a safe environment for students regarding facilities and provide competitive equity. Frostman said he believes possible “inappropriate environments” could be created by transgender students’ use of locker rooms aligned with their birth sex or with their gender identity.
The issues could be further complicated as teams travel from school to school, Frostman added.
“I think that needs to be specified,” he said of a protocol for facility use.
Frostman said he has concerns about how the policy could affect spring sports.
“I think the district would be premature to adopt the policy at this point without an accompanying plan,” he said, adding that he believes the district also opens itself up to legal concerns should the board adopt the policy without a plan in place.
Policy in practice
Labecki said WIAA’s and similar policies prevent people from presenting themselves as transgender when they do not identify as such, one concern mentioned by critics of Baraboo’s policy. The guidelines establish medical documentation requirements for students to privately certify with the district that they identify as transgender in order to play on the teams with which they identify.
The policy aims to provide competitive equity, ensure equal access to sports, and maintain the privacy of the students, Labecki said.
“I know people have concerns,” he said, adding that he understands that many haven’t been exposed to the issue before.
“I think there are a lot of questions from the community, and legitimate questions in terms of, ‘What would this policy look like in practice?’” said Baraboo’s Director of Special Education and Pupil Services Dani Scott.
The day-to-day implementation of the policy will need to be handled on a case-by-case basis, Scott said, adding that all students have the right to privacy and to feel safe in district facilities, teams and activities.
“We want to provide facilities that respect the rights and privacy of all students,” she said. “And so we would work with the transgender students as well as non-transgender students to make sure they have access to facilities they feel safe and comfortable in.”
There are students in the district who identify as transgender, she said. “This is not an issue that hasn’t touched our community.”
Scott said the district has received messages in support of the policy in addition to comments from those who are opposed.
Some local school staff members recently attended a presentation put on by the district’s Gay/Straight Alliance club to help them better understand some of the issues at hand.
Right to participate
The Rev. Marianne Cotter, pastor of Baraboo’s First United Methodist Church, held an information session on the policy Wednesday night. She plans to speak at Monday’s meeting along with several church members.
Cotter, who joined the Baraboo community this summer, said she’s heard that the school district has done a good job of promoting a climate that addresses bullying and makes sure all students feel safe. The transgender participation policy implements several of the district’s stated core beliefs, she said.
“I believe it’s important to speak up and to be an ally for those who don’t always find it easy or safe to speak up for themselves,” she said.
Involvement in sports is an important part of life for many young people, Cotter said, adding that she believes all students should have access to such opportunities.
“Every person is a child of God and worthy of respect, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity ... ” she wrote in the statement she plans to share Monday.
“My church is clear that every person is a person who is of sacred worth,” she said.