Lawrence school board members on Monday spoke in support of transgender, nonbinary and gender-nonconforming students and staff in the district, following the Kansas Legislature’s approval of several bills diminishing transgender people’s rights.
The Legislature recently passed bills attacking the rights of transgender people, specifically youth. One bill bans transgender girls and women from participating in women’s sports from kindergarten through college, and another bans them from using women’s restrooms, shelters and other gender-specific spaces. The Legislature also banned gender-affirming care for Kansas youth under age 18, and physicians who offer such care could have their licenses revoked.
Board President Shannon Kimball during Monday’s school board meeting said the district and board will continue to uphold their equity policies that prohibit gender-based discrimination.
“I just want to express, personally, that I support our students in our district — our transgender students, I see you,” Kimball said. “These policies are hateful and harmful … We take our obligations to provide equal opportunities to our students very seriously, and we will continue to do so.”
Students at multiple Lawrence schools participated in student-led walkouts on March 28 to support the rights of transgender people ahead of the Legislature’s final votes. During the school board meeting on Monday, board member Carole Cadue-Blackwood shared that she participated in the Lawrence High School walkout.
“It was a hard day, mentally, but it was really empowering for me,” Cadue-Blackwood said. “There’s nothing more powerful than being in the space of those who live openly [and] authentically and felt safe to walk down our streets in support of our trans students.”
“… I’m honored to be a part of this board that will continue to support our trans community members, because these people are our neighbors, our family, our friends and colleagues, and they deserve to live with dignity and be treated fairly in every part of life,” Cadue-Blackwood continued.
Board member Kelly Jones asked district administrators to clarify their plans to enforce or not enforce the laws moving forward, and what consequences the district could face if it doesn’t.
Clay Wirestone, opinion editor of Kansas Reflector, wrote in an April 9 opinion column that the new laws do not specify how the bans will be enforced. Opponents have spoken out about the harm in requiring physical or medical examinations of children, or requiring birth certificates. He wrote that the law’s lack of specificity “leaves the door wide open for individual schools and school districts to make their own rules for lower grades.”
District spokesperson Julie Boyle said via email Tuesday that the district has looked to resources from GLSEN, a national organization dedicated to education and awareness of LGBTQ issues in K-12 education, as staff members work to develop procedures for supporting transgender, nonbinary and gender-nonconforming students and staff.
Boyle also said the district has not yet received guidance from the state on how to move forward. The Kansas State High School Activities Association (KSHSAA), which governs the Lawrence school district’s athletics and activities, also must rework their current policy on transgender student-athletes’ participation.
Boyle said the district anticipates receiving recommendations from the Kansas State Department of Education, KSHSAA and the Kansas Association of School Boards, including KASB legal services.
Superintendent Anthony Lewis said Tuesday in a statement provided by Boyle, “Transgender, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming youth deserve access to the same opportunities as their peers. Lawrence Public Schools supports the rights of trans/NB/GNC students to participate in their education and school sports in a manner consistent with their gender identity … We want all of our students to know that we value and support them as individuals.”
• “The encouragement of government policies and enactment of legislation that requires bias and equity analysis of policy decisions and legislation at all levels”;
• “Equal rights and equity of opportunity to all persons regardless of race, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, or ethnicity”; and
• “Programs that celebrate the diversity, and honor the achievements, of all Kansans.”
Kimball also noted during board commentary that there were discussions in the Statehouse, but no decisions yet, regarding K-12 funding. Instead, the Legislature saved those decisions for its veto session — “which is concerning,” Kimball said — set to commence on April 26.