A student in Kingsley who identifies as bi-gender has requested use of the bathroom of the student’s choice. Kingsley Area Schools superintendent Keith Smith says the student spoke at a board meeting in April about having a fluid gender identity between male and female.
Smith says it's his impression that the student wants to be able to use either bathroom. The district is waiting to hear back from an attorney about the bi-gender student’s request before moving forward.
There’s been a lot of debate about school guidelines for transgender students' bathroom use for lately. The Michigan State Board of Education came out with a draft of guidelines for LGBTQ students in public schools earlier this year. The guidelines say transgender and gender nonconforming students can use the bathroom that matches their gender identity.
The U.S. Department of Education and Department of Civil Rights sent a "Dear Colleague" letter to public schools last week, saying a similar thing for transgender students. Regarding bathrooms, the letter states, "A school may provide separate facilities on the basis of sex, but must allow transgender students access to such facilities consistent with their gender identity."
Jay Kaplin is a staff attorney for ACLU of Michigan's LGBTQ Project. He helped draft Michigan's guidelines. He says the state board of education guidelines would apply to the bi-gender student in Kingsley. But he adds any request should be treated as unique and is best worked out in conversation between the student and school. He says the conversation should aim to find a solution that makes the student comfortable and offers continuity for the school.
Superintendent Smith says he has received phone calls from some parents about the bi-gender student's request.
“At the fundamental issue, it does kind of come down to rights, and fairness and decency for students," says Smith. "And I certainly understand the desire of transgendered students to use the bathroom that they’re most comfortable in. I also understand the desire of parents and other students to feel comfortable when they’re in the bathrooms as well."
But Smith says guidelines aren’t enough.
"We’re educators trying to do the best to try to teach kids," Smith says. "We’re not lawyers. We’re not judges. We’re not policy makers."
Smith hopes the Michigan legislature will pass a law so every student across the state gets the same treatment.