There’s plenty of reason to believe former Minnesota Rep. Bob Vanasek of New Prague was correct when he said the current debate over school districts handling the facilities use of transgender and gender non-conforming students is a legislative issue and will not be settled in a school board meeting room in New Prague or any other school district across the state.
In New Prague, parents are unhappy the district, at the advice of its legal counsel, is moving forward with a guidance allowing transgender and gender non-conforming students to utilize the restroom or locker room aligned with their gender identities. A group of parents are demanding the district require these students to be required to use the gender restroom or locker room of their birth.
Citing an interpretation of the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruling and the state’s Human Rights Act, the district’s legal counsel is telling the school board it is following the legal, safe path. At a workshop last month, directors were warned the district’s insurance provider might decline to cover the district if it does not follow court rulings and is successfully challenged. The Minnesota Department of Human Rights, says “The Minnesota Human Rights Act protects all Minnesotans from discrimination.” Sounds simple enough, but it never is.
The school district is in a no-win situation, here. Parents are threatening to pull their students out of the district’s schools, a warning with dire financial consequences if they make good on it in the numbers indicated. Unless they attend a private school or a home school, they’ll face the same potential set of rules in any other public school district.
And just so we’re clear here, former superintendent Tim Dittberner said the district has had only one student raise the concern about facilities use in the past year or two. There have been no transgender or gender non-conforming students seeking a spot on competitive athletic teams in the district, Dittberner said. Could this change this year? Perhaps.
So far, there have been no doable, legally defensible alternatives to state law or court rulings suggested to the school district. The newspaper has offered opponents of the guidance editorial page space to offer suggestions. The question to folks concerned about the safety of children from transgender and gender-nonconforming students is simple: Assuming your concerns are accurate, what should the district do that is both legal and ethical?
The school board has a policy of not responding to people when they attend and partake in public comment sessions at the start of school board meetings. The policy has the impact of people addressing the board with no response, leaving people to wonder if the board is listening, if board members care?
We’d suggest board members and representatives of Protect Our Girls New Prague sit down in a public meeting and discuss the issue, civilly and with a problem-solving focus. Since we are still a nation of laws, opponents of the guidance the district is planning to implement need to bring suggestions on what the district can enact the courts will accept. Since a potential settlement could be costly, there must also be thoughtful consideration of the financial impact should the district be successfully challenged by litigation.
To start down the path of possibly ignoring state law and court rulings upholding state law without thinking of the potential ramifications would be fiscally reckless.
When Director Dan Call was challenging the school district’s plans to follow the proposed guidance during a workshop in June, Mr. Vanasek, who has seen this type of issue hashed out years ago when state lawmakers passed the Human Rights Act back in 1967, suggested Mr. Call could run for state legislature since the issue will have to be passed by the legislature and defended by its attorneys when the inevitable challenge is brought.
As Mr. Vanasek said, that is where this issue would be best addressed, by state lawmakers and the courts.