Santa Clarita School Officials, Parents Sound Off On New Transgender Law
Changes could be coming to the way local school districts address the needs of students who identify as transgender, due to Assembly Bill 1266, which came into effect Jan. 1.
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The new law allows students to choose which gender-specific bathroom they want to use and the sports team on which they want to play.
“A pupil shall be permitted to participate in sex-segregated school programs and activities, including athletic teams and competitions, and use facilities consistent with his or her gender identity, irrespective of the gender listed on the pupil’s records,” the law reads.
Elementary and high school districts in the Santa Clarita Valley, especially the William S. Hart Union High School District are still uncertain if new policies will need to be put into place to comply with the law and how it will ultimately affect students, teachers and parents.
The Hart District oversees approximately 22,000 junior high and high school students in the Santa Clarita Valley.
Joe Messina, Hart District board member, said that the law is not specific about how schools ought to carry out the new requirements.
“The bill said, make this work, end of discussion,” Messina said.
But he was quick to point out that the district already strives to accommodate transgender students.
“The Hart district has been dealing with this for years,” he said, “and has had no complaints from the LGBT community.”
Steve Sturgeon, president of the Hart board, also expressed uncertainty about whether AB 1266 would spur any new policies.
The board began discussing the issue in fall 2013.
“We’ve talked about it,” Sturgeon said. “I’m not sure what we’re going to do at this point.”
The district maintains student privacy by allowing them to use the nurse’s bathroom if they choose, he said.
Marc Winger, superintendent for the Newhall School District said, that officials there deal with these concerns in the same way, by allowing students to use a private bathroom if they feel uncomfortable.
He said that the issue does not come up very often at the elementary level, and he doesn’t believe that the law is going to have a big impact on the elementary district.
“We’re not going to do anything formal about it,” he said. “We’ll work with the parents and the child to make sure that anyone who has that concern is made comfortable.”
Even though the law went into effect Wednesday, it could be suspended and put on the November 2014 ballot for a public vote, pending the verification of a petition by Privacy for All Students.
The organization describes itself as “a coalition of parents, students, nonprofit and faith groups.”
In November they submitted a petition to have the law suspended. The signatures on that petition are currently being reviewed.
The coalition calls AB 1266 “an invasion of student privacy to open sensitive school facilities such as showers, restrooms and locker rooms to students of the opposite sex.”
Messina worried that the law would create a lack of consistency, because a students ability to use a gender-specific bathroom did not require a doctor’s or parent’s note.
“A male can walk in and use the girls bathroom and not let anyone know,” he said.
Currently, the law remains in effect.
State Sen. Steve Knight, R-Antelope Valley, who voted against the law, also noted uncertainty about what the law would mean when students come back to school later this month.
"We don't know what's going to happen when kids come back from their holiday vacation," he said. "Are there going to be 15-year-old girls talking in the bathroom and in walks a boy? What are they going to do? Scream? Run out?"
But local parents expressed support of the new law.
Susan Wachter, who has children in Hart district schools, said that it would help to promote respect.
“I have two children, both in the Hart district,” she said. “I would hope that as a result of this law my children will see all children treated with compassion and respect.”
Erin Kotecki Vest, who has two children attending Santa Clarita Valley International Charter School, said that she had no fear for her third- and fifth-grader.
“After all, our children are well-versed on equality and respect for others and would never be afraid of another gender in any area of their school--even ones others consider private, like the sink areas of a restroom or common areas of a locker room,” she said. “So why on earth would they be afraid of a transgender student doing the same?”
Wachter added that she thought students should be treated no differently than the gender that they identify with.
“The few transgender teens I've met appeared to be the gender for which they identify,” she said. “They are already on hormones that result in physical changes. If a transgender student is presenting as female, with long hair, dress, nail polish, hips and breasts should she really go into a boys bathroom? It should be seamless -- she should not be outed.”
It remains to be seen how districts will implement the law going forward.
To read AB 1266 in it’s entirety, click here.
Lisa Leff and Julie Watson of NBC Los Angeles contributed to this report.
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