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MLSD delays gender-inclusive school policy discussion

by CHARLES H. FEATHERSTONE
Staff Writer | June 9, 2021 1:00 AM

MOSES LAKE — The Moses Lake School Board has postponed discussion of a draft “Gender-Inclusive Schools” policy originally set for a special meeting Thursday.

“This topic has actually been pulled from the agenda as we gather more information and details. So it will not be discussed this week,” wrote Moses Lake School Superintendent Josh Meek in an email to the Columbia Basin Herald.

According to school board member Bryce McPartland, concerns in the community, the MLSD’s difficulty obtaining legal counsel, and “some discrepancy” about just how required the policy is prompted postponing the discussion.

The draft proposal, which has not been enacted by the Moses Lake School District, is based on a model policy created by the Washington State School Directors’ Association (WSSDA), and would require teachers and staff to affirm a transgender student’s gender identity and allow transgender students to use names, pronouns, restrooms, locker rooms and to dress “in a manner that is consistent with their gender identity and/or gender expression.”

Under the provision of a law passed in 2019, all school districts in Washington were required to have gender inclusive policies in place by Jan. 31, 2020.

According to WSSDA Executive Director Tim Garchow, the model policy meets all requirements of state law, but school districts are free to modify the policy so long as those modifications are also in line with the law.

However, Garchow added state law makes it clear school districts have to enact a legally valid gender-inclusive school policy.

“Most will take our policy,” Garchow said. “It’s vetted to be in compliance. If districts choose to modify, they will need to seek counsel.”

“Based on the questions presented, the discourse related to the topic, and requests to get appropriate and timely legal counsel, etc., the policy is being pulled from the agenda. There is also, evidently, some discrepancy about the ‘requirement’ from OSPI.

“That doesn’t mean the policy is permanently off the table, but it is not a present issue for the time being,” McPartland wrote in an email to the Columbia Basin Herald.

School board member Elliott Goodrich said he believes the proposed policy takes too much power away from families and gives it to the school district.

“I’m not inclined to approve this policy as stated,” Goodrich said.

For example, the proposed policy allows a principal or “appropriate, designated school employee” to request a meeting with a “transgender or gender-expansive student” in response to that student’s “change of gender expression or identity” prior to meeting with the student’s parents to determine the student’s preferences regarding family involvement and ensure no information about the student’s transgender status is not divulged to family members if they are not supportive.

The proposed policy defines “gender expansive” as “a wider, more flexible range of gender identities or expressions than those typically associated with the binary gender system.”

“We should not be taking away control from parents and kids,” Goodrich said. “This puts the school district in charge.”

Goodrich said he believes all students, no matter what they struggle with, should be treated with “empathy and compassion,” but the district should respect the choices parents make for their children.

“We should respect the rights, privacy and dignity of all students without removing parents from the picture,” he said.

The school board meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday at the Columbia Basin Technical Skills Center, 900 E. Yonezawa Blvd., or online at the district’s website, https://www.mlsd161.org/apps/pages/sb-livestream.

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached at cfeatherstone@columbiabasinherald.com.