Superintendent's Notes

Schools Follow Laws, Keep Students Safe

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With the draft guidance on how to provide a safe and supportive learning environment for LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning) students issued in February by the Michigan State Board of Education, and the recent guidance issued by the U.S. Department of Education and the Office of Civil Rights, our schools find themselves right in the middle of a highly sensitive issue. The Michigan Association of School Boards recognizes this and is offering a webinar next Thursday, May 26 from noon to 1:30 p.m.

While there is a $50 cost for school board members to participate in this training, I believe it would be money well spent. The webinar will cover the recent state and federal guidance issued as well as the incidents, investigations and judicial rulings that have brought us to where we are now. They will also answer questions on the current state of the law and what is expected of districts at the state and federal level right now.

As you may know, the State Board of Education collected face-to-face comments and 13,000 electronic comments regarding their drafted guidelines. Now the Michigan Department of Education, the State Superintendent, and the State Board of Education are analyzing the feedback in light of the newly released federal guidelines. They have said August is the earliest they would vote on the state guidelines. If they vote to adopt them, they will not be policies imposed on local districts, but instead be a set of options for districts to consider. Local school districts and their elected school boards would each decide to do what they believe is appropriate and helpful for all of their students. On the other hand, the new federal guidance, which addresses bathroom and locker room use, could lead to a loss of federal funding if they are not followed. On the other hand, the new federal guidance (which does not add to the Title IX law) provides specific examples and more detailed information on how the federal government evaluates whether or not schools are complying with Title IX. Complying with Title IX is a condition of receiving Federal funds.

We know students who feel safe, included, and comfortable in the school setting will achieve at higher levels, and we have seen firsthand how students and staff thrive when we create an atmosphere of respect, despite differences that may not reflect the values, beliefs and orientation of individual students and their families. We also strictly comply with federal laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of many items including sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

We also stand firmly behind anti-bullying policies intended to eliminate the discrimination that occurs when students, and members of society, are singled out for their differences. Recent court cases and rulings by the federal Office of Civil Rights specifically address the differences of those students who prefer to identify with a gender other than that assigned at birth. The results of these cases serve as an encouragement to schools to work with families and students to accommodate student preferences and ensure their personal safety.

I am proud of our schools and their commitment to safe and comfortable learning environments for all students. By putting students first we will all grow together.

 


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Dr. John Severson
Muskegon Area ISD Superintendent