State board recommends transgender girls be excluded from girls sports at schools

In an unannounced move, the State Board of Education unanimously passed a resolution March 14 that urges the Alaska Department of Education to limit the participation of transgender girls in girls school sports.

The resolution, which is non-binding, encourages the department to adopt a policy that would ban transgender girls from competing alongside girls who are cisgender — meaning their gender identity matches their sex assigned at birth — in school sports. The resolution asks the department to create two sports divisions: one exclusively for students whose sex assigned at birth is female, and another that would be open to all students of all genders.

The resolution was added unexpectedly to the agenda, on the tail end of the board’s three-day meeting in Juneau, which concluded March 16.

Billy Strickland, executive 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 banning transgender athletes from competing alongside cisgender athletes altogether, with the idea of creating three divisions: one for girls, one for boys and one coed division that could accommodate transgender athletes.

Strickland said there aren’t enough transgender athletes for a third division. He said that in his nine years directing the organization that oversees high school sports in Alaska, he has heard of only one transgender athlete, but he also said that the association does not track the number of transgender athletes in the state.

Spokespeople for the governor’s office declined to respond to a list of emailed questions, including whether Dunleavy instructed the Department of Education to adopt the policy outlined in the board’s resolution.

“The governor believes … girls playing in single-sex leagues should be playing against other girls. It is age and sex, not gender-identity, that divide athletics into competitive categories. If a person who was born a male but feels out of place playing a sport in a league with boys only due to their gender identity, the solution isn’t to allow them to compete against girls, but to increase co-ed opportunities,” a spokesman for the governor said by email.

Under existing regulations, it is up to individual school boards and districts to adopt and implement policies pertaining to transgender athletes’ participation in school sports. Most districts don’t have a policy at all, and only the Matanuska-Susitna School District board has adopted rules limiting the participation of transgender athletes in teams that align with their gender identity, Strickland said.

It took a full day after the state board meeting for the department to distribute its resolution to legislators. In the resolution, the board urged the education department to adopt regulations creating two sports divisions to protect “the integrity of high school girls’ sports.”

The eight-member board passed the resolution unanimously. The board’s student adviser, Maggie Cothron, of Anchorage, abstained.

Before it was approved, the board amended the measure to include middle school sports, Fields said, reasoning that children begin going through puberty — with corresponding differences between the physical abilities of boys and girls — in middle school. Middle school sports are not governed by the Alaska School Activities Association.

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

Fields said Friday that it would be up to the Alaska School Activities Association, the department or the Legislature to take up the recommendations based on the resolution, and that he had no preference as to which body would take action to create binding requirements for schools.

Anchorage Democrat Sen. Löki Tobin, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, said the resolution had caught her “off-guard” and that she had not learned about it until after it had passed. Tobin said she was concerned that the board had violated its requirement to allow the public to weigh in on resolutions before they are adopted.

Meanwhile, Palmer Republican Sen. Shelley Hughes said she had been aware of the board’s resolution “for some time” and had intentionally been “keeping it quiet” about her ongoing effort to limit the participation of transgender girls in girls school sports because she “knew that it would create a stir.”

The resolution from the Board of Education — which is comprised of individuals appointed or reappointed by Dunleavy — comes on the heels of a measure introduced by the governor 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 sex assigned at birth. That bill, which has not yet been voted on by members of the Legislature, would also require parental approval for students seeking to change the name or pronouns they use in schools.


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