Othello School Board approves transgender student policy

by CHERYL SCHWEIZER
Staff Writer | October 14, 2020 1:00 AM

OTHELLO — Training will be offered to Othello School District personnel and students around issues dealing with gay and transgender students. The training will be scheduled as part of a new district policy on gay and transgender issues, which was approved by the Othello School Board on Oct. 12.

District superintendent Chris Hurst said the policy, and a lot of the wording in it, were mandated by the Washington legislature. Hurst said the policy was designed to address nationwide concerns over suicide rates among transgender youth, and how gay and transgender students are treated at school.

Under the policy, student privacy must be accommodated when using locker rooms and bathrooms. That will mean students using staff bathrooms or other single-user facilities, Hurst said. That rule would apply to any student.

Students cannot be asked questions about gender identification by staff but must be addressed by the gender they prefer. Board member Jenn Stevenson asked how staff was supposed to know in that case. Hurst said students can make their identification known to a staff member or members, and that information would be added to student files, accessible by staff only.

Under the policy, school officials cannot contact parents when middle or high school students express gender identification, Hurst said. School officials do have the right to use what Hurst called “common sense” when questions arise with elementary students. In that case school officials plan to call the parents, Hurst said.

District officials must establish a complaint policy for students who say they were harassed, Hurst said.

Stevenson asked about transgender students who exhibit inappropriate behavior. Hurst said a lot of education will be required for staff and students, including appropriate and inappropriate behavior.

Training has been scheduled for district administrators, and will be scheduled for teachers and eventually for students, Hurst said.

Cheryl Schweizer can be reached via email at cschweizer@columbiabasinherald.com.