Parents of transgender students confront board

Staff Writer
Since 2013, I have primarily covered the Anoka-Hennepin and Spring Lake Park school districts as well as the city of Spring Lake Park for ABC Newspapers.

Parents of transgender students and other advocates addressed the Anoka-Hennepin School Board Feb. 27, asking that the board develop a broader gender inclusivity policy so that students wishing to use the bathrooms and locker rooms corresponding to their gender identity, rather than their biology, do not have to wait as long as a year to receive permission to do so.

Jennifer Halpaus, parent of a Coon Rapids High School sophomore, is currently playing the waiting game.

“I have been waiting for about a year for an answer on my child being able to use a locker room with the gender he identifies with,” she said. “It is not OK to grant access on a case-by-case basis. It isolates these children, and it submits them to stigma.”

Halpaus’ son was on the boys swim team last year, and she said he was fine to use the locker room until the School Board caught wind of it.

She appeared before the board last March and again Feb. 27, 2017.

“I’m kind of tired of waiting for my child to be considered equal,” Halpaus said.

While no other parents had pending requests for accommodation like Halpaus, those present urged the board to allow all transgender students across the district to use restrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity.

“I urge you to make a gender-inclusive policy, rather than take each case and decide and have to wait a year or so for that decision,” parent Pam Riddle said.

Riddle asked the board to form a committee to draft such a policy and offered to connect the board with her friend Ellie Krug, founder and president of Human Inspiration Works, an organization offering inclusivity-focused trainings. Krug offered to provide the board gender-inclusivity training free of charge.

In an interview following the board meeting, Board Chairperson Tom Heidemann confirmed that the board has received the same inclusivity training materials that have been placed in the hands of district staff.

“I have personally reviewed all the materials,” he said, adding that he believes the board has sufficient knowledge and capability in this area, but the body will certainly consider taking Krug up on her offer.

Heidemann said he was unable to comment on Halpaus’ request with data privacy laws in place that prevent him from commenting on individual students.

Administration typically handles requests to accommodate transgender students, but board members are kept in the loop, Heidemann said, noting that 99 percent of requests from transgender students are for more privacy, not full access to bathrooms and locker rooms.

Anoka-Hennepin parents came forward days after President Donald Trump repealed protections for transgender students put in place by the Obama administration this past spring.

Obama’s position was that federal laws required schools to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms of their choice.

Neither Obama’s nor Trump’s mandates have changed the way Anoka-Hennepin considers transgender students’ requests to use particular bathrooms or locker rooms, Heidemann said.

Parent Carolyn Anderson, whose transgender son Erik graduated from Andover High School in 2015, said experiences in Anoka-Hennepin schools led her son to suffer anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation.

“Trans students, like all other students, should feel safe, encouraged and accepted by their school,” Anderson said.

Instead, across Minnesota, 60 percent of trans students are denied access to restrooms that match their gender identity, according to a 2015 survey administered by GLSEN, a national organization dedicated to “create safe and affirming schools for all, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.”

“I ask you to consider the whole student,” Anderson said. “Please don’t look at their biology. Think about their beautiful minds.”

HCMC pediatrician Rhamy Magid, who treats both transgender and cisgender Anoka-Hennepin students, reminded the board that 40 percent of LGBTQ kids contemplate or attempt suicide.

“The reason isn’t that there’s something wrong with them; the reason is their environment,” Magid said.

He urged the board to “protect these kids and help them thrive.”

Magid said there is no evidence that allowing kids to use the restroom of their affirmed gender causes harm or danger to anyone, but barring kids can cause anxiety, depression, school avoidance, substance abuse, suicidal ideation and other bad outcomes, he said.

“We have an opportunity to do the right thing at no cost to anyone,” Magid said.

Heidemann said a sweeping policy on bathroom and locker room access is “not realistic” at this time because “every request is different.”

The Minnesota School Boards Association released guidance on this matter in an email to school board members and superintendents Feb. 28, stating that districts should “work with parents and students at the local level to ensure a safe and nurturing environment for all students.”

The email went on to say that “a separate policy for transgender students is likely premature until issues are settled by the courts,” but boards are able to adopt policies as long as they do not go against the law.

Current procedures comply with state and federal laws, according to a statement from the district.

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