Alaska Board of Education supports keeping transgender girls away from women’s sports teams

In an unannounced move, the Alaska Board of Education unanimously passed a resolution Thursday afternoon that urges the state Department of Education to limit transgender girls’ participation in school sports. for girls.

The non-binding resolution encourages the Alaska Department of Education and Early Childhood Development to adopt a policy that would prohibit transgender girls from competing alongside cisgender girls — meaning their gender identity matches their sex assigned at birth – in school sports. The resolution calls on the Department of Education to create two athletic divisions: one reserved exclusively for students whose sex assigned at birth is female, and another that would be open to all students of all genders.

The resolution was unexpectedly added to the agenda at the end of the Alaska School Board’s three-day meeting in Juneau, which ended Thursday.

Billy Strickland, director of the Alaska School Activities Association, said the resolution closely mirrors a policy he discussed with members of Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration last month. Strickland said members of the governor’s administration approached him to discuss a total ban on transgender athletes competing alongside cisgender athletes, with the idea of ​​creating three divisions: one for girls, one for boys and a mixed division that could accommodate transgender athletes.

Spokespersons for the governor’s office did not immediately respond to questions about Dunleavy’s position on the issue and whether he intended to ask the Department of Education to adopt the policy outlined in the resolution. advice.

Strickland said there aren’t enough transgender athletes to populate a third division. In his nine years leading the organization that oversees high school sports in Alaska, he said he’s only heard of one transgender athlete. Instead, Strickland told the Dunleavy administration that it would be possible to create a division just for cisgender girls and an “open” division that could accommodate all other students, including transgender students. Girls already regularly play alongside boys in Alaska on some football and hockey teams, while there are no equivalent teams for girls.

Under current regulations, individual school boards and districts are responsible for adopting and implementing policies regarding the participation of transgender athletes in school sports. Most districts have no policy at all, and only the Mat-Su school board has passed rules limiting transgender athletes from participating in teams that match their gender identity, Strickland said.

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The policy Strickland discussed in early February with members of the governor’s administration — whom Strickland declined to name — would require transgender girls to play in the open division alongside the boys, but as Strickland understood, the boys transgenders whose sex assigned at birth is female could choose between the two divisions.

That settlement closely mirrored that proposed in the non-binding resolution passed at 4 p.m. Thursday, shortly before the council adjourned.

On Friday, board members and the Department of Education refused multiple requests for copies of the resolution. Department spokeswoman Laurel Shoop said she could not provide a copy of the resolution because it had not yet been signed by council chairman James Fields.

But according to a draft copy of the resolution obtained by the Daily News, the board urged the Alaska School Activities Association to pass the two-division proposal to protect “the integrity of high school girl sports.”

“The Alaska State Council on Education and Early Development supports the adoption of regulations proposed by the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development and reviewed by Alaskans to prioritize competitive fairness and safety on the playground while allowing all students to participate in activities. says the resolution.

The eight-member council passed the resolution unanimously. The council’s student adviser, Maggie Cothron, abstained.

“We’re making a statement to keep women’s sports safe, competitive and fair, that’s all,” Fields said in a brief interview after Thursday’s vote.

The resolution was brought by board member Lorri Van Diest, who did not immediately respond to a list of questions emailed on Friday.

Sen. Löki Tobin, D-Anchorage, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, said Friday that the resolution caught her “off guard” and that she only heard about it after it passed. Tobin said she is concerned the board violated its duty to allow the public to weigh in on resolutions before they are passed.

Tobin said she was “very concerned” that the resolution might violate the right to privacy enshrined in the Alaska Constitution.

“What I could see, this resolution could possibly violate those provisions,” Tobin said. “When I think of the handful of young people we are talking about, I am very worried and I fear for their safety. Even the optics create a situation that can put some people’s lives in danger.

Tobin said his reading of the resolution indicates that the regulations have already been proposed by the Department of Education. A ministry spokesperson did not respond to questions about whether the regulations had already been drafted.

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“I’m concerned primarily because I’m the chairman of the Senate State Education Policy Committee,” Tobin said. “I’m concerned that process was simply not followed and we were unable to provide our public comments on this matter.”

Tobin said the legislature can “overrule” regulations proposed by the Education Department or any other state department.

“We give our department the power to do that in regulations, but that doesn’t mean they have carte blanche to enact a set of regulations that the state legislature doesn’t believe is the intent and the directive. of their power,” Tobin said.

The resolution from the Alaska Board of Education — made up of Dunleavy appointees or reappointees — follows a measure Dunleavy introduced that would impact the rights of transgender students in Alaska. Earlier this month, he proposed a bill that would require gender-nonconforming students to use restrooms and locker rooms based on their assigned sex at birth. The bill, which has yet to be voted on by members of the Legislative Assembly, would also require parental approval for students wishing to change the name or pronouns they use in schools.

Questions about transgender athletes’ participation in sports are regularly raised in state legislatures, including Alaska’s, but Strickland said he doesn’t know of other states that have addressed the issue by creating just two divisions. sports.

“We could become at the forefront of how this is handled,” he said.

A bill that would limit the participation of transgender children in school sports failed to pass the Senate last year, after being proposed by Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer. Rep. Tom McKay, R-Anchorage, proposed a similar bill earlier this year that would allow transgender athletes to compete in a separate mixed division, with other divisions reserved for boys and girls based on their assigned gender. at birth. This bill has not yet been the subject of a hearing.

This year, members of the bipartisan Alaska Senate have pledged to stay away from divisive issues, including LGBTQ rights bills.

Samuels reported from Anchorage and Maguire reported from Juneau.

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