116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
MARION — New policies adopted by the Linn-Mar Community School District to protect transgender students from discrimination are the "safest“ policies for students and could possibly protect the district from future litigation, said Keenan Crow, director of policy and advocacy at One Iowa, a statewide LGBTQ group.
Parents upset over the policies earlier this week met in Marion with Gov. Kim Reynolds and U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson, both Republicans seeking re-election this year. The event was not open to the media, and the governor's spokesman said the meeting was private.
“As a parent, they were really concerned that the school district was eliminating them in the process,” Reynolds told reporters afterward. “You know, a parent has to sign off on a kid, a child, taking an aspirin or to go on a field trip. But yet they’re implementing policy that the student — a seventh-grader — will decide if a parent knows about that (gender identify) or not. They felt very strongly that these are their children, not the school district’s.”
The policies were hotly debated last month by Linn-Mar school board members, passing by 5-2 vote in the first and second considerations. School board members President Brittania Morey, vice president Clark Weaver, Sondra Nelson, Melissa Walker and Rachel Wall approved the policy. Members Matt Rollinger — who is new to the board this year — and Barry Buchholz opposed it.
The school board vote makes official practices that were already established at Linn-Mar schools to follow federal and state law — as they also have with other districts. Superintendent Shannon Bisgard said the policies will not change any practice the district has been following for more than five years.
The policies were intended to allow students to advocate for themselves, feel comfortable at school, receive support from staff and work with staff and families to create a plan to help students’ succeed.
“It creates a culture of treating students equally and with dignity and respect,” One Iowa’s Crow said. “It’s letting the student come out at their own time and pace in a way that feels safest for them, so they’re not put in a dangerous situation at school or at home. All these policies are what the law requires, so it’s not changing what schools are practicing.”
An April 25 school board meeting elicited four hours of public comment, with the majority of the 76 speakers opposing the policies. Some speakers who oppose the policies called them “woke,” cited the exclusion of parents or guardians and said they were un-Christian.
“Folks need to try to put themselves in the shoes of these queer kids and realize why these policies are important rather than envisioning disaster scenarios,” Crow said. “It seems like a serious overreaction to something that should be relatively acceptable to everyone.”
The policies spell out inclusive practices for transgender students, including giving students access to restrooms, locker rooms or changing areas that correspond with their gender identity. It protects a student’s privacy by keeping their transgender status private at school — if they wish to.
Any student in seventh grade or older will have priority over their parent or guardian of a gender support plan, according to the policies.
“The transition process is very anxiety-ridden,” Crow said. “There are a lot of unknowns, and one of the things the school district can take out of the unknown column is what is going to happen at school when they transition.”
There is not an increase in public safety incidents in restrooms, locker rooms or changing areas when those spaces are made available to people whose gender conforms, Crow said.
There is, however, a significant risk to a transgender person being assaulted if they are forced to use a space that doesn’t conform with their gender identity, Crow said.
“The statistically safest policy is the one Linn-Mar just adopted,” Crow said. “It minimizes the risk of transgender students being assaulted and there is no increased risk to cisgender students.”
Cisgender refers to a person whose gender identity conforms with the one given to them at birth.
At the April 25 school board meeting, the district’s legal counsel, Ahlers & Cooney, outlined anti-discrimination laws, which include gender identity at federal and state level and guidance from the Iowa and federal Office of Civil Rights on how to comply with the laws in regards to gender identities.
Gender identity was added to the Iowa Civil Rights Code in 2007, and Title IX guidance at the federal level was first release in 2016. Iowa released similar guidance in 2017, and those procedures have been followed in public schools since.
Title IX is a federal civil rights law that was passed as part of the Education Amendments of 1972. It prohibits sex-based discrimination in any school or any other education program that receives funding from the federal government.
“These policies do not change procedure, they simply put in to policy for easy reference how these laws are followed within our district,“ school board President Morey said in a Facebook post.
The Iowa City Community School District adopted a similar policy in April 2018, district spokeswoman Kristin Pedersen said.
The Cedar Rapids Community School District does not have a board policy related to transgender youth, but it does have a non-discrimination policy and Title IX expectations, Superintendent Noreen Bush said in an email.
Since 2015, the Cedar Rapids district has aligned with the Iowa Department of Education guidance for equality for transgender students, Bush said.
According to the state Department of Education’s policy and guidance on equality for transgender students:
- Students have a right to keep their transgender status private at school, and the district should keep this information confidential. It is not the school’s information to share, even if the student has disclosed it to other staff or students.
- The preference for the use of pronouns is the choice of the student, and a legal name change is not required for a student to use a new name for class lists, student activities or yearbook publications.
- All students have access to locker rooms, bathrooms and shower facilities they identify with, and students cannot be forced to use a restroom for which they do not identify.
- School district’s anti-discrimination policies must include gender identity discrimination, and staff is trained about gender identity issues in anti-discrimination, bullying and harassment training.
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