GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) – The state Board of Education and Michigan Department of Education have extended the public comment period for another 30 days on a set of guidelines released to assist schools with LGBTQ students.
The recommendations are not finalized and if approved, they would not be mandatory for school districts to enact. However, state education officials said they have already received more than 3,000 public comments online and have received more by fax and mail.
According to officials, the guidelines were developed because several districts reached out to them for guidance on how to handle issues involving gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning students.
“This guidance really sets out a way in which these kids can feel safe in school and succeed,” said Mira Krishnan, a board member for Equality Michigan and a transgender person herself.
The state released statistics from 2015 that showed students who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual are twice more likely to be threatened or injured with a weapon at school than other students. Nationally, 26 percent of transgender students were physically assaulted at school in the past year.
“In order to be a really good education state, we need to have schools where all kinds of students can succeed. LGBT students are much more likely to face bullying and victimization in school, and it also leads to higher rates of suicide in LGBT kids. We really think this is important because it will allow educators to support these students so they get to the point where they can graduate and chase their dreams down like any other Michigander,” Krishnan told 24 Hour News 8.
The guidelines released address some changes within schools like making sure staff is equipped to talk about LBTQ issues, providing more information in school libraries and resource centers, and adopting policies to protect students from harassment, violence and discrimination.
The guidelines also propose making sure students are allowed to use restrooms, locker rooms and changing facilities that correspond with their gender identity, which Mike Shibler, the superintendent of Rockford Public Schools, finds concerning.
“I know I would be naive to say that we don’t have any students that have an interest in the transgender issue, but right now it’s appropriate that male students go into male locker rooms and male bathrooms and female students go into female bathrooms and female locker rooms. My responsibility and every superintendent in the state’s responsibility is to create a safe and appropriate environment for our students, age appropriate, and that would be students who attend our school from preschool all the way up through seniors in high school,” said Shibler.
He said Rockford Public Schools would provide a separate facility for transgender students if the guidelines ever became mandatory, which is not the case at this time.
“Obviously it’s going to be a financial issue for school districts if they are told by law that they have to do this. We will work it out so that the male student may go into a one bathroom by himself that is just designated for that reason so that they feel safe,” he said.
Shibler doesn’t see how the recommendations would work.
“I find it would be rather difficult if a school district were to say you’re a male, but you believe you’re a female so you’re going to go into the female locker room. I just don’t see that as an option because we have to think of the safety, age appropriate safety,” he told 24 Hour News 8.
Krishnan said there’s a difference between one’s sex and how they identify and that there’s no evidence showing schools that use similar guidelines put non-LGBT students in harm’s way.
“Basically this guideline aims to help protect the kids that need protecting,” Krishnan said.
Both Shibler and Krishnan are hoping parents voice their opinions about the issue to the state and their lawmakers.