PALMER — Mat-Su school officials will no longer allow transgender students to choose bathrooms that match their gender identity, suspending a practice recommended by district guidelines for over seven years.
The Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District school board voted 5-1 Wednesday night to halt the district’s existing policy for review.
That recommendation, from the board’s three-member policy committee, was based on the actions of a federal judge in Tennessee who in July blocked the Biden administration from enforcing an executive order designed to protect the LGBTQ community from school and workplace discrimination.
The school board decision means transgender students must use bathrooms corresponding to their gender at birth or request private facilities.
As directed by the board, Mat-Su schools superintendent Randy Trani will review the district’s policy and guidelines regarding transgender students’ use of communal bathrooms and locker rooms.
During the interim, transgender students can use locker rooms and bathrooms that match their sex assignment at birth or use individual bathrooms and locker rooms that provide privacy, board policy committee member Ole Larson said during the meeting.
A vocal crowd of parents packed Wednesday evening’s meeting to overflowing, many apparently motivated by concerns raised by descriptions circulated on social media of a transgender student’s use of a girls facility at Colony High School near Palmer. District officials did not provide any specifics about that incident before or during the board meeting.
The mother of a student at Colony told the board her daughter was in the locker room “and realized there was a biological male” in the locker room with her. She also said she’d received threats and harassing messages after voicing her concerns publicly.
School board officials limited public testimony on the issue to a total of one hour. Nearly all testimony came from people who supported suspending the guidelines for transgender students.
The school board policy committee met “in an emergency meeting” when the concerns about the Colony High School incident — and the district guidelines — surfaced, committee member Jeff Taylor said.
Taylor apologized to district families for the guidelines “slipping by for this long.”
The school board’s student advisory representative, Vanessa Schachle, voiced concerns about student privacy and staff forced to make sure students were using the restroom “corresponding to their sex” by checking their genitalia.
“Students’ use of the bathroom has become an oversexualized conversation amongst persons outside of school,” Schachle said.
Board member Dwight Probasco, a retired Wasilla High School principal and the only board member to vote against the suspension, said the district needs to protect the “probably less than 2%” of students who identify as transgender.
Probasco asked for a positive solution such as gender neutral facilities or some other alternative that keeps a child’s gender identity confidential.
The Mat-Su guidelines previously in effect were updated by the district’s legal counsel and equal employment officer prior to 2015 and are consistent with board policy on non-discrimination, according to spokeswoman Jillian Morrissey.
The guidelines recommend transgender students be allowed to use bathrooms or locker rooms “assigned to the gender, which the student consistently asserts at school” but a student who asks for privacy “will be provided with reasonable alternative facilities or accommodations such as using a separate stall or a staff facility.”
For restrooms, the suspended policy said, “a student shall not be required to use a separate gender-neutral facility over his/her objection.”
Anchorage School District guidelines in place now state transgender and gender nonconforming students and staff “are not required to use sex-segregated facilities that are inconsistent with their gender identity” and anyone uncomfortable using a shared restroom should be provided with “a safe and non-stigmatizing alternative.”
The Mat-Su school district in June approved Alaska’s first local ban on transgender girls participating in girls sports and other school-sponsored activities.