The state of Minnesota has issued new guidance encouraging schools to allow transgender students to compete on sports teams and use bathrooms and locker rooms based on their gender identity. It wants schools to allow transgender students to room with other students of their chosen gender during out-of-town school trips and it says that students and staff should address transgender students using their preferred pronoun.
The state released the new "Toolkit for Ensuring Safe and Supportive Schools for Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students" July 19th with the stated mission of providing "safe, supportive and welcoming schools."
But Doug Wardlow, an attorney with the conservative non-profit Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), isn't buying it. "I think what they're trying to do is frighten schools into just going along with this transgender ideology" he told CBN News.
Wardlow says the guidance relies on outdated policies from the Obama administration and violates privacy rights.
ADF and the Minnesota-based North Star Law and Policy Center sent a letter dated Aug. 3rd to all Minnesota school districts, warning them that the guidance, issued by the state Department of Education's School Safety Technical Assistance Council, threatens both students' bodily privacy rights and the rights of their parents to control their children's education.
"The drafters of the tool kit rely on the federal Department of Education's May 16, 2016 'Dear Colleague Letter' as guidance and legal support for their claims," ADF and North Star wrote to Minnesota school boards "but that guidance has been withdrawn and the federal government no longer relies on the positions expressed."
The ADF-North Star letter also warns the school boards that adopting the tool kit recommendations would violate students' constitutional privacy rights.
Josh Collins, a spokesman for the state Department of Education, told CBN News that the recommendations are not guidelines, characterizing them instead as options "for districts to wrestle through." When asked about how schools should provide a safe environment for students who are not transgender he said local control will dictate policy.
"Schools will have these conversations with their local communities to decide what's best for them," Collins said.
Wardlow says he sees the tool kit as an attempt to strong-arm school districts, noting its numerous references to federal and state law.
The tool kit explains that the state is merely providing information to assist school districts in developing policy but also implies that transgender rights should trump all others if schools want to provide a safe environment for students.
"Minnesota law provides that all students have the right to attend school in a safe and supportive environment," it says "illegal discrimination can occur if a student is expressly denied full utilization of a benefit at school."
The guidance explicitly suggests that transgender students "should be afforded the opportunity to use the restroom of their choice" and says that schools can direct any students who doesn't wish to share such a restroom to a single-user facility.
It also says that transgender students should have their preference in hotel accommodations on overnight school trips. "School officials should allow a transgender or gender nonconforming student the opportunity to room with peers who match the student's gender identity."
Across the country, educators at the state and local level are wrestling with the issue of how to accommodate the needs of transgender students with the competing needs of other students. Wardlow believes that Minnesota is going further than most states in pursuing transgender rights. "Minnesota is pushing the issue in a way that you would expect an issue advocate to do," he said.
In Pennsylvania on Friday, ADF attorneys argued in federal court on behalf of a male student who was surprised by a female student undressing in his school locker room.