Michigan is the latest state bracing for a debate over transgender accommodation in public schools, as a Republican lawmaker is confronting a sweeping State Board of Education policy about to take effect and crafting legislation designed to empower parents and protect the privacy of all students.
“When we found out about it, it was almost down to the end as far as time for public comment,” said State Sen. Tom Casperson, who is drafting legislation to address the policy. “They had set this policy and put it in motion back in February. In February, they said they would take public comment until April 11th.”
Only discovering the proposed policy change in recent days, Casperson said he had no choice but to take the lead publicly on the issue.
“We were getting very close to April 11th, so that’s why we jumped on it. More so to get the public aware of the policy so that they had some honest input on it,” Casperson said. “That’s why we did what we did. And when we announced we were going to have legislation drafted pertaining to it, then the media picked up on it immediately, and now the parents have picked up on it immediately.”
As a result, public comment has been extended to May 11, and Casperson said the parents he’s heard from have been sounding a consistent message.
“I’m hearing overwhelmingly a problem with the breadth and the scope of the policy,” said Casperson, who points out the policy would have otherwise taken effect, and school districts statewide would be required to follow the guidelines of the State Board of Education.
The board’s policy would allow students to use bathrooms according to the gender with which they identify. However, it doesn’t stop there.
“The bathroom is one component, but they’ve gone so far as to say they’re going to allow the kids to blend together even in locker room settings. So you’re going to put a young boy in with the young girls, as if somehow that’s acceptable,” said Casperson, a father of four.
The aspect of the policy that may bother Casperson most is language that would keep parents in the dark about the gender identity struggles of their children.
“They also have a policy that they put in place that would allow for the school to let the child recommend they want to change their gender and they want to change their name but they don’t want their parents involved,” Casperson explained. “This policy says then that the school then must not let the parents know about what’s going on.”
He said that will effectively lead to chaos.
“For parent-teacher conferences, the teacher would have to change back and identify the child by their biological name for the parent-teacher conference but then go back and let the child be identified with the other gender,” Casperson said.
“That is unacceptable,” he added. “To exclude the parents and almost be deceptive to the parents about what’s going on when their child is going to school like that is out of bounds.”
Listen to the WND/Radio America interview with State Sen. Tom Casperson:
Casperson is hoping to avoid the fierce backlash seen in other states over this issue by taking a more limited approach. On the bathroom and locker room front, he’s seeking accommodation for all.
“We’re suggesting through the legislation that they make accommodations for kids that are struggling with their gender identity and they they not be forced to go into either [bathroom], but at the end of the day they have an option to go somewhere, probably more like a private situation, a singular bathroom,” Casperson said.
But he said the State Board of Education recommendation is a non-starter with him.
“It seems like the Board of Education is just suggesting it’s absolutely no big deal to send what would be a little boy into a girls’ bathroom because they’ve identified themselves through their gender as a girl,” Casperson said.
As for the policy that would potentially keep parents in the dark about their child adopting a a different gender while at school, Casperson said his legislation would allow any suspicion of abuse in the home to be reported to authorities and figured out in court. Outside of such accusations, he said parents must be involved.
“If there’s none of that known or nothing is identified as wrong at home, parents have to be proactive with the child to make the request. The request can still be made. The child can change the identity, but it needs to be done with the parents,” he said.
Michigan House Speaker Kevin Cotter is strongly supportive of the bill, and Republican State Rep. Ed McBroom is drafting similar legislation in the Michigan House of Representatives.
But the pushback is already brewing. State Board of Education President John Austin says the legislation could put Michigan in violation of federal civil rights laws. He also says it would be “damaging for young students” and put those at issue in a position for bullying, depression or suicide. Austin says he doesn’t want Michigan to follow the path of North Carolina.
Casperson defends his bill against both arguments. First, he said every provision is designed to protect the rights of all students.
“There’s been accusations made toward myself and what the bill does, and it’s not accurate at all,” he said. “We are recognizing the need and that there are things that need to be set in place to protect these children. We’re simply saying the policy should be looking at all children and making sure all children are protected and safe and that all children certainly have a right to privacy.”
Furthermore, he said the Michigan bill differs considerably from the new law in North Carolina.
“I’m not going as far-reaching as what they are,” Casperson explained. “I’m simply dealing with K-12 education in the state of Michigan. When it comes to the private sector and business community, if they want to set policies for restrooms inside their facilities in their businesses, I’m not dealing with that.”
With just a few weeks until the public comment comes to a close, Casperson said he will be ready for whatever moves the State Board of Education tries to make.
“We don’t have that far to go before the Department of Education gets final with their weigh-in period, so they’re all coming together pretty quick here,” Casperson said
“I suspect they’ll have a chance to change it,” he said. “If they don’t want to change it, then I’ll make an attempt to run the legislation.”