I was fortunate to work for 38 years in the Anchorage School District, including 12 years serving as superintendent, and it was my privilege to work for the success of all Anchorage students. Working in some of our nation's most diverse schools, Anchorage educators strive every day to make sure no student falls through the cracks. Though I am now retired, I continue to believe in that mission. Every single student matters.
That is why I feel compelled to speak out against Proposition 1, a ballot initiative that would fail some of our most vulnerable students. Across the country, educators have seen how policies like Proposition 1 harm transgender students. When transgender students cannot access the facilities that match their gender identity, they frequently become victims of verbal and physical harassment, which cascades into a host of other negative consequences. Instead of focusing on their education, these students worry about where and when they can use a restroom without incident. Some will avoid using the restroom for the whole school day, which goes hand in hand with dehydration, urinary tract infections and kidney problems, and as many parents of transgender children will tell you, policies like Proposition 1 take the largest toll on their child's mental health.
The non-discrimination law has now been on the books for two years, and it has served our students well. It has allowed our educators to work with individual students and solve problems on a case-by-case basis. Proposition 1 would take that flexibility away from our students and educators. The current law acknowledges that different students have unique needs. Proposition 1 papers over those differences with policy that is ineffective and harmful. In my opinion, it is far more worthwhile for educators to work with individual students than to stand guard outside bathrooms checking birth certificates.
I know some parents continue to feel concerned about the non-discrimination law, and that all parents want the best for their children. I understand those concerns. But legitimate concerns should not legitimize falsehoods. It is not true that the current law allows men to simply dress up as women to enter women's restrooms. It is not true that the current law makes it more permissible for someone to harass anyone in public facilities. The debate over Proposition 1 too often glosses over real individuals, I suspect because many Anchorage residents have not interacted with transgender people in a meaningful way. For transgender students and their parents, this debate is not about hypotheticals.
We as a society set aside the first 18 years of a child's life to devote to learning. Of course, our students learn outside the classroom as well, but we still mandate the classroom time to ensure that they grapple with ideas and questions that go well beyond their lived experience. We train our students to view the world with curiosity and to absorb as much as possible. How easily we lose that mindset! With more years under our belts, we trust ourselves wholeheartedly, and our own lived experience increasingly defines the parameters of our understanding. But I would argue this: No matter how old or wise we become, there will remain experiences and concepts that we cannot fully fathom, because we have not lived them ourselves. This ballot initiative singles out a group of people who, in one respect, experience something that most residents of Anchorage do not: They are transgender. They are also tall, short, funny, awkward, outgoing, athletic, introverted and trying to figure it all out like everyone else. And they are our students. It is our job to listen to them.
Carol Comeau is former superintendent of Anchorage schools.