Opponents push back against Mat-Su school district bathroom policy

Myles McDonald speaks to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough school board on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022. (Screenshot from MSBSD livestream.)

Residents of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough continue to weigh in on the school board’s bathroom policy for transgender students.

Earlier this month, the Mat-Su school board voted 5-1 to suspend a policy that allowed transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity.

At that Sept. 7 meeting, more than two dozen people spoke in favor of suspending the policy. 

The only community member to speak against it then was the board’s student representative, Vanessa Schachle. She said it was important to consider the perspective of students and staff, not just parents. And she said students felt like verifying someone’s gender assigned at birth was an invasion of privacy.

“Students’ use of the bathroom has become an oversexualized conversation among persons outside of school,” she said.

Wednesday’s meeting drew additional opponents of the change.

Myles McDonald is transgender and a former student in the district. McDonald said bathroom policies like these add to the stress that queer and trans kids already face.

“These kids are a part of your community whether you like it or not, so please stop trying to make life harder for them,” McDonald said. “Growing up queer is already one of the hardest parts of youth to come to terms to, when you feel that you aren’t accepted by anyone else and it’s constantly proven to you.”

Jessica Young told the board it could threaten the economic future of the area.

“Kids will go to college and never come back to the Mat-Su because they will understand they are accepted other places,” Young said. “Kids will move out deliberately. Young, educated people will move out deliberately. Businesses will decide not to come here because of discriminatory policies.”

Young also mentioned that September is National Suicide Prevention Month.

“The single biggest indicator of whether or not a trans child will attempt or complete suicide is how affirming their parents, school or friends are,” Young said.

Others spoke in favor of the Sept. 7 decision. Ron Johnson has three great-grandchildren in the district, and he said the board’s decision had broad support.

“Mat-Su supports this,” he said. “It’s pretty obvious. I’ve been coming to the last two or three school board meetings. This reflects the values of our community.”

The board’s vote earlier this month temporarily suspended the policy allowing students to use bathrooms matching their gender identity. But the school board could be required to reinstate that policy if the federal Department of Education finalizes changes to Title IX it proposed in June

Wednesday’s meeting also included a vote on whether teachers should be required to set aside between one and two minutes each morning for a moment of silence.

According to the policy, a teacher “may not make suggestions as to the nature of any reflection that a student may engage in during the moment of silence.” 

In 1985, the Supreme Court struck down an Alabama state statute because it established a moment of silence for “meditation or voluntary prayer.” The Mat-Su school board’s policy does not mention prayer or meditation, but instructs teachers to “encourage parents or guardians to discuss with their children how to best use the moment of silence.”

It passed 5-1, with board member Dwight Probasco voting no. Probasco said he thought the policy should give teachers the option to set aside a moment of silence, rather than mandate it.

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