Alaska Education Board supports keeping transgender girls out of girls’ sports teams

In an unannounced move, the Alaska Board of Education unanimously passed a resolution Thursday afternoon calling on the state Department of Education to limit the participation of transgender girls in girls’ school sports.

The non-binding resolution encourages the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development to pass a policy banning transgender girls from competing in school sports with girls who are cisgender — meaning their gender identity matches their birth-assigned gender . The resolution asks the Department of Education to establish two athletic departments: one exclusively for students whose gender was assigned female at birth, and another that would be open to all students of all genders.

The resolution was unexpectedly placed on the agenda at the end of the Alaska Board of Education’s three-day meeting in Juneau, which ended Thursday.

Billy Strickland, director of the Alaska School Activities Association, said the resolution closely mirrors a policy he discussed with members of Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration last month. Strickland said members of the governor’s administration approached him to discuss a ban on transgender athletes from competing alongside cisgender athletes, with the idea of ​​creating three divisions: one for girls, one for boys and a mixed division that could accommodate transgender athletes.

Spokesmen for the governor’s office did not immediately respond to questions about Dunleavy’s position on the issue and whether he intended to direct the Department of Education to adopt the policy outlined in the board’s resolution.

Strickland said there weren’t enough transgender athletes to populate a third division. In his nine years as head of the organization that oversees high school athletics in Alaska, he said he’s only heard of one transgender athlete. Instead, Strickland told Dunleavy’s administration that it was possible to create a department just for cisgender girls and an “open” department that could accept all other students, including transgender students. Girls already regularly play alongside boys in Alaska on some soccer and hockey teams when there are no equivalent teams for girls.

Under existing regulations, it is up to individual school boards and districts to adopt and implement policies regarding the participation of transgender athletes in school sports. Most districts have no policies at all, and only the Mat-Su school board has issued rules restricting transgender athletes from participating in teams that match their gender identity, Strickland said.

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The policy that Strickland discussed with members of the governor’s office in early February — whom Strickland declined to name — would require transgender girls to play alongside boys in the open division, but in Strickland’s understanding, transgender boys who were gender-assigned female at birth could do so was to choose between the two divisions.

This rule mirrored very closely that in the non-binding resolution adopted at 4 p.m. on Thursday, just before the Bureau meeting.

Board members and the Department of Education on Friday turned down several requests for a copy of the resolution. Department spokeswoman Laurel Shoop said she could not provide a copy of the resolution because it had yet to be signed by CEO James Fields.

But according to a draft copy of the resolution obtained by the Daily News, the board asked the Alaska School Activities Association to adopt the two-part proposal to protect “the integrity of high school girls’ sports.”

“The Alaska State Board of Education and Early Development supports the passage of regulations proposed by the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development and reviewed by the people of Alaska to prioritize competitive fairness and safety on the field while allowing all students to participate to enable activities,” the resolution reads.

The eight-member board passed the resolution unanimously. Student advisor to the board, Maggie Cothron, abstained.

“We’re making a statement to keep girls’ sports safe, competitive and fair, that’s all,” Fields said in a brief interview after Thursday’s vote.

The resolution was brought by board member Lorri Van Diest, who did not immediately respond to a list of questions emailed Friday.

Sen. Loki Tobin, D-Anchorage, chair of the Senate Education Committee, said Friday that the resolution “surprised” her and that she only found out about it after it passed. Tobin said she was concerned the board had breached its requirement to allow the public to comment on resolutions before they are adopted.

Tobin said she was “very concerned” about the resolution, which may violate the right to privacy enshrined in the Alaska Constitution.

“From what I could see, this resolution could potentially violate those provisions,” Tobin said. “When I think of the handful of young people we are talking about, I am very concerned and afraid for their safety. The optics alone create a situation that can endanger the lives of some people.”

Tobin said her reading of the resolution suggests the regulations have already been proposed by the education department. A spokesman for the department did not respond to a question about whether the regulations had already been drafted.

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“My primary concern is that I’m the chair of the state Senate Education Committee,” Tobin said. “I am concerned that the process has simply not been followed and we have not been able to make our public comment on the matter.”

Tobin said the Legislature could “cancel” proposed regulations proposed by the Department of Education or any other state department.

“We give our department the power to do this in regulation, but that doesn’t mean they have carte blanche to enact a regulatory package that the state legislature does not believe is the intent and direction of their power.” said Tobin.

The Alaska Education Board’s resolution — made up of people who have been appointed or reappointed by Dunleavy — follows a measure introduced by Dunleavy that would impact the rights of transgender students in Alaska. Earlier this month, he proposed a bill that would require gender-nonconforming students to use bathrooms and locker rooms according to their gender assigned at birth. This bill, which members of the Legislature have yet to vote on, would also require parental consent if students wish to change the name or pronouns they use in schools.

Questions about transgender athletes’ participation in sports regularly surfaced in state legislatures, including Alaska’s, but Strickland said he was unfamiliar with other states that had solved the problem by creating just two athletic departments.

“We could become a pioneer in handling this problem,” he said.

A bill that would restrict transgender children’s participation in school sports failed in the Senate last year after being proposed by Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer. Rep. Tom McKay, R-Anchorage, proposed a similar bill earlier this year that would allow transgender athletes to participate in a separate coeducational division, with other divisions reserved for boys and girls based on their gender assigned at birth . This bill has yet to be scheduled for a hearing.

Members of Alaska’s bipartisan Senate majority this year vowed to stay away from contentious issues, including LGBTQ rights bills.

Samuels reported from Anchorage and Maguire reported from Juneau.

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