Statewide policy bans trans girls from girls’ sports; Lawrence school district ‘will not waver’ in support of students

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Post updated at 6:39 p.m. Monday, April 14:

A new statewide policy bars transgender girls from girls’ sports, but the Lawrence school district is still evaluating what compliance will look like and voicing support for trans and gender-nonconforming students and employees. 

The Kansas Legislature in April overrode Gov. Laura Kelly’s vetoes to pass bills limiting the rights of transgender Kansans. House Bill 2238, which proponents call the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,” bans transgender girls and women from participating in women’s sports from kindergarten through college. It went into effect July 1. 

The Kansas State High School Activities Association (KSHSAA) executive board in April approved an updated policy on transgender students’ participation in sports as a result of the legislation. The policy states that gender-specific sports teams, but not coed or mixed teams, will align with biological sex at birth. 

“Athletic teams or sports designated for females, women or girls shall not be open to students of the male sex,” the policy reads.

Lawrence school board President Kelly Jones said the board policy committee has requested that district leadership evaluate how KSHSAA’s policies intersect with district policy.

“The board has a lot of questions from a legal perspective about what the Legislature is purporting we have to do,” Jones said via email.

Molly Adams/Lawrence Times School board member Kelly Jones speaks during an August 2022 meeting.

Jones said she’s been frustrated with the Legislature’s priorities.

“It is disgusting that state policymakers found no time to comply with their legal obligation to fully fund special education,” she said. “However, they had copious time dedicated to insidious anti-LGBTQ bills designed to terrorize transgender youth and their families for political gain. It’s enraging. And Lawrence Public Schools will not contribute to this hate-filled trajectory.”

Trans boys and men aren’t completely barred from participating on boys teams under the new policy, and individual member schools can make determinations. The KSHSAA executive board makes the final call if there is any conflict with a school’s decision.

Schools are expected to review each student’s physical examination by a doctor, which is always required to participate in high school sports, to ensure their sex identified at birth is aligned with the gendered team they wish to participate in. If disputes arise, a student or their guardians must provide the school with the student’s original birth or adoption certificate or documentation from a licensed physician.

Another bill passed alongside the sports ban, Senate Bill 180 – which proponents call the “women’s bill of rights,” though it enumerates no rights for women — was intended to ban transgender girls and women from women’s restrooms, locker rooms and more.

The school board stands with local LGBTQ+ advocacy groups, such as Trans Lawrence Coalition (formerly No SB 180 in Lawrence), and it celebrates the Lawrence City Commission’s final approval of an ordinance that declares Lawrence a safe haven for trans folks, Jones said.

District spokesperson Julie Boyle agreed with Jones that the district will continue to push back against the recent legislation and said students will be supported in their schools.

“Lawrence Public Schools will not waver from its commitment to protecting students and staff against all forms of discrimination, including discrimination on the basis of gender identity and gender expression,” Boyle said via email. “Lawrence Board of Education Policies, including the Equity Policy, are clear about this commitment. The school board adopted policy prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity and gender expression more than a decade ago.”

District buildings had already provided gender-neutral restrooms and offered private restrooms for changing purposes, Boyle said. Now appropriate signage near restrooms will reflect that when students arrive for the first day of school — a project that facilities and operations staff undertook this summer. 

School board Past President Shannon Kimball during a board meeting on July 24 said the entire project cost “just a few hundred dollars.” 

There’s a need to establish inclusive spaces in schools, Jones said.

“Transgender youth and staff deserve to walk through our buildings with their dignity supported and their personhood intact,” she said. “Inclusive facilities remove barriers, may lower anxiety, and signal to students and staff that in our schools- we respect people in all of their identities. I imagine that makes it easier to teach and learn, which are LPS’s (Lawrence Public Schools’) essential purposes.”

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Boyle confirmed Wednesday that restroom signage is now updated in all schools. The district’s central office’s restrooms are still being worked on, Jones said Wednesday.

An official plan for navigating the upcoming school year — and any issues that may arise — hasn’t yet been presented to the board, but the district has posted an LGBTQ Advisory Guide to its website. 

The guide gives expectations to employees and substitutes around “safety and bullying, names and pronouns, locker rooms, gender segregated activities, and support resources.” Jones said the Board Policy Committee is currently reviewing it to make improvements. 

Jones added that feedback from staff, students and communities in Lawrence who are “directly impacted” will be part of the process before the board considers approving an official guide.

According to the current guide, purposely misgendering a student “may result in discipline up to and including termination.” Employees and substitutes will have updated rosters and be expected to address all students by the names and pronouns that correspond with their gender identities.

The guide also states that students will have access to locker rooms or changing areas that correspond with their gender identities. Any student can request to use a gender-neutral restroom or one of the private staff restrooms, if either is more comfortable for changing purposes. 

“It is the expectation to avoid using gender as a characteristic in classroom/school activities, and when planning or promoting events,” the guide states, and extracurricular clubs and social events should be inclusive. “Ensure that activities and events are inclusive of students and families of diverse backgrounds.”

The district has previously looked to GLSEN, a national organization dedicated to education and awareness of LGBTQ issues in K-12 education, for guidance while developing procedures.

Boyle and Jones said as of Wednesday that district leaders and the board had yet to receive guidance from the state on navigating the upcoming year.

Community members with questions or concerns should contact individual schools or call the district office at 785-832-5000, Boyle recommended. See the district’s LGBTQ+ resource guide for research information, mental health services, support groups and more.

Note: This post has been corrected to reflect that the board policy committee is considering updates to the LGBTQ advisory guide. The current guide has board approval.

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Maya Hodison (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at mhodison (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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