Mat-Su

Mat-Su school board considers ban on transgender students in girls sports

PALMER — The Mat-Su school board is weighing a new policy that would bar transgender students from participating in girls activities.

A proposed amendment to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District’s activity policy would require schools to designate school-sponsored athletic teams or sports as male, female or coed and require participation in a female sport to be based on the participant’s biological sex at birth.

The Mat-Su proposal does not apply to visiting teams from other districts, officials say.

The changes, drafted by three school board members, were introduced at a board meeting Wednesday. Another hearing is scheduled for June 15.

The majority of the eight-member school board voiced unconditional support for the change at Wednesday’s meeting. Several called it a “women’s rights issue,” including Jubilee Underwood, who said she feels that the inclusion of transgender athletes in girls sports marks “a war on women, on women’s sports, me as a woman.”

The Mat-Su proposal’s language basically mirrors the wording in a legislative bill sponsored by state Senate Majority Leader Shelley Hughes, a Palmer Republican. The bill was tabled last session.

“The state of Alaska has chosen to be silent on this, has chosen to sidestep the issue,” school board member Thomas Bergey said during Wednesday’s meeting. “This needs to go through to provide conflict, to force the state, the state sports association, the state Legislature, to act.”

Dwight Probasco, a retired Wasilla High School principal, was the only school board member to voice concerns.

Probasco requested a legal opinion from the district’s attorney on how the amendment fits with Title IX, the 1972 amendment prohibiting sex discrimination in any education program or activity that gets federal financial assistance.

”We talk about a level playing field,” he said. “This mentions girls and women. Where’s our fields for our trans children? And what would they look like?”

The proposal got little attention before its introduction. Just two members of the public testified Wednesday night.

Mike Coons, a Palmer resident appointed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy to the Alaska Commission on Aging, cheered the board for “standing up and saying boys are boys and girls are girls.”

Robin Moffet, a Palmer resident with children in Mat-Su schools, urged the board to rethink the policy, citing statistics that 375 transgender people were murdered in 2021 alone and transgender youths are over four times more likely to be victims of violent crimes than cisgender people.

Moffet in an interview Thursday said the school board is sending a message to transgender youths that they can’t feel safe in one of the places they should feel protected — at school.

“The transgender youth in our communities are just trying to thrive. If they’re able to play sports, great, as they should,” she said. “But there’s not some agenda out there. They just want to live their lives like any other kid.”

The board’s three-member Board Policy Committee created the proposed language. The committee, which has met every two months, is made up of school board president Ryan Ponder and members Ole Larson and Jeff Taylor.

Asked if the proposal was generated by requests from the public, board members or administrative staff, district spokeswoman Jillian Morrissey said it was brought to the school board by the committee.

The proposed amendment “champions women and girls by ensuring an even playing field in athletics,” Ponder said during Wednesday’s meeting, reading from a committee report.

The school board “recognizes significant biological and physiological differences between males and females, including greater strength, speed and endurance capabilities among males, on average” that provide a competitive advantage, he said, referencing Title IX.

“Allowing males to compete in girls’ sports reverses nearly 50 years of advances for women, which is neither fair nor equal,” Ponder said.

Billy Strickland, executive director of the Alaska School Activities Association, said he knew of no other districts with similar proposals in the works. He’d heard about the Mat-Su policy change from a few athletic directors in the district who wondered about the consequences.

“School districts are obviously free to make their own decisions,” Strickland said.

Zaz Hollander

Longtime ADN reporter Zaz Hollander is based in the Mat-Su and is currently focused on coverage of the coronavirus in Alaska. She also covers the Mat-Su region, aviation and general assignments. Contact her at zhollander@adn.com.

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