“Our schools, our teachers, our administrators are on the front line of a culture war in our society,” said State Sen. Patrick Colbeck (R-Canton).
Colbeck is not satisfied with a LGBT policy proposed by the State Board of Education.
Many school districts have sent notice to parents letting them know the board has drafted a policy on how schools should work to provide a safe and supportive learning environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning students. It would ban discrimination, calls for diversity training for staff, and would allow students to choose their gender, name, and bathroom.
“In other words, in addition to the core activity of teaching our kids, it says our teachers and school administrators need to pay attention to who is going into which bathroom,” said Colbeck on the Senate Floor this week.
Senator Colbeck questioned whether the state board of education was working in the best interest of education, and suggested lawmakers look into the board’s funding. He, and many leaving public comment on the policy say it disrespects their religious beliefs.
The leaders of Ferndale Schools have a different perspective. Their district, basically, already has in place the policy recommended by the board in the draft.
“We are a public school,” said Blake Prewitt, Superintendent of Ferndale Schools. “We should accept whoever comes in. We should take care of them, make sure they are loved and cared for, so they can learn."
Superintendent Prewitt introduced 7 Action News to two kids on the Ferndale High Gay Straight Alliance who are very aware of this policy.
"My mom texted me the link yesterday and I was very excited,” said Cecil, a 15-year-old Ferndale High student. “I was like, yes!”
Cecil is a transgender boy. He says at the beginning of the school year he asked teachers to use his chosen name, and masculine pronouns. They respected his request. He also uses the boy’s restroom. Other kids accept and respect this.
“Trans boys are still boys and trans girls are still girls,” said Alex a 16-year-old who is the VP of the Gay Straight Alliance at Ferndale High.
“They are not going in the bathroom to harass anybody,” said Cecil. “They’re just going to the bathroom.”
In public comment on the policy, a repeated concern is that mixing boys and trans boys, or girls and trans girls in bathrooms will lead to problems.
“I will be honest,” said Prewitt. “We haven’t had anyone come up to us and report any issue with the bathrooms.”
State School Board President John Austin says the policy allows schools flexibility for dealing with situations. If there were a problem where kids were uncomfortable, schools could provide a private bathroom. He says the goal is to make sure all kids feel accepted and safe at school.
Students who are part of the Gay Straight Alliance at Ferndale High see the policy as a potentially life saving message to LGBT kids.
“They get bullied a lot in school. They have really high suicide rates, and I think this will be a big step in calming that down and having them be recognized as the gender they identify as,” said Alex.
“It would be really important to me to feel more normalized as a trans kid. I know I am still accepted here, but it would be a really great step for lots of kids,” said Cecil.
Public comment on the policy will be accepted until April 11. A decision will be made in May on whether to implement it. You can find information on how to take part in public comment at everyvoicecountsmi.org.