Wednesday, October 12, 2016

SBE adopts voluntary guidlines to support LGBTQ students

The State Board of Education adopted voluntary guidelines aimed at creating a supportive environment for LGBTQ students on September 14. 

A 2015 survey found that 8.4 percent of Michigan students identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual.  Those students were more than twice as likely to threatened or injured with a weapon on school property than non-LGB peers, and more than twice as likely to skip school because they feel unsafe.  Forty-one percent report being bullied on school property. 

LGB students are 4.5 times as likely to attempt suicide.

The guidelines are part of the State Board of Education's commitment to "promoting a safe, supportive, and inclusive learning environment for all students and ensuring that every student has equal access to educational programs and activities."  State Board of Education Statement and Guidance on Safe and Supportive Learning Environments for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning (LGBTQ) Students.

The document really has two parts, the SBE's best practices, and a list of recommendations to comply with federal law.  The best practices are the SBE's recommendations to districts regarding how districts can provide a safe and inclusive environment for all students.  They are voluntary.  The recommendations are not enforced by the SBE or the State of Michigan.  However, the SBE recommends districts comply in order to comply with recommendations from the U.S. Department of Education and Office of Civil Rights and their interpretation of federal law.

The SBE's best practices include:
  • Adopting and implementing policies protecting students from harassment, violence, and discrimination for any reason including based on their real or perceived sexual orientation, gender identify, and / or gender expression.
  • Provide professional development opportunities on issues affecting LGBTQ students to district staff and board members.
  • Support formation of clubs such as Gay-Straight Alliances or Gender and Sexuality Alliances in middle in and high schools.
  • Designate a building-level staff member who is conversant in issues related to sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.

The recommendations to comply with federal law include:
  • "Names and Pronouns. When requested by the parent/guardian and/or student, school staff should engage in reasonable and good faith efforts to address students by their chosen name and pronouns that correspond to their gender identity. . . ."
  • "Student Records. When requested, schools should engage in reasonable and good faith efforts to change current unofficial student records (e.g., class and team rosters, yearbooks, school newspapers, and newsletters) with the chosen name and appropriate gender markers to promote consistency . . ."
  • Privacy and Confidentiality Regarding Disclosures
  • Gender-Segregated Activities and Facilities.  The gist of this recommendation is that students should be able to use the facilities and participate in the activities consistent with their identity.
    • Further, any student should be given access to single-user restrooms if they have a desire for increased privacy.  Also, any student who has a desire for increased privacy regarding locker rooms and changing facilities should be able to request options such as 1) adjusted schedule, 2) use of a private area in the facility, 3) use of a private area nearby the facility.
    • Students should be able to participate in the interscholastic sport in accordance with their gender identity.  However, participation in interscholastic events is ultimately likely to be governed by the MHSAA.

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