After listening to two hours of testimony, a state council adopted a toolkit to serve as a resource for creating safe and supportive supports for transgender and gender non-conforming students.
It came from the School Safety and Technical Assistance Council at the Minnesota Department of Education. Council C0-Chair and Minnesota Human Rights Commissioner Kevin Lindsey, emphasized that toolkit is intended to serve as “a resource, not guidance” or requirements from the state.
Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius, who also serves as co-chair, sees the toolkit as a living document that can be revisited and is limited in its scope.
Those caveats did not deter advocates both pro and con from stepping to the microphone in front of an audience of over 200-300 persons. It was contentious, heartfelt and respectful.
Those in opposition were in red and clapped to show approval of comments. Those in favor were in purple and snapped fingers and waved their hands, all fingers out, in approval of comments they supported. Speakers and audience members generally abided by the guidance of Assistant Commissioner Kevin McHenry who moderated the testimony.
Opponents that included parents, pastors, representatives of the Minnesota Family Council and the Minnesota Catholic Conference, and three state legislators —Reps Miller, Scott and Whelan, spoke of harassment and the invasion of privacy rights of gender conforming students and the erosion of parental rights. They shared that the Council was not representative of diverse views on the subject.
What’s in the Toolkit
The Toolkit for Ensuring Safe and Supportive Schools for Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students outlines the duty to investigate gender discrimination and harassment and to abide by both the Minnesota Human Rights Act and Safe and Supporting Minnesota Schools Act.
The toolkit mostly provides suggestions on working with students, parents, and school staff.
It addresses topics such as use of names, pronouns, athletics, activities, restrooms, locker rooms and dress code. Its most important overall messages are to listen before making pronouncements, and to provide all students with a safe and supportive school environment.
To put learners first, school leaders – whether board members, teachers or administrators – need to see students as individuals and their school community as a place where all can learn. That is easier to say than navigate in real time.
This toolkit is among the resources that school leaders can seek for information. Other sources for information and guidance include MDE’s School Safety Technical Assistance Center and district legal counsel.