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Placer Union schools in ‘holding pattern’ over transgender rules

New law allowing students to choose bathrooms faces questions, opposition
By: Andrew Westrope, Staff Writer
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A statewide battle over transgender student accommodations in schools will come to a head in February, and Placer Union High School District, though compliant with the latest legislation, has taken a wait-and-see approach to school policy reform.

In August 2013, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law the School Success and Opportunity Act, tagged AB1266, which proponents say was intended to give transgender students the freedom to choose which bathrooms to use. Before AB1266, which went into effect on Jan. 1, state law prohibited schools from discriminating on the basis of “gender expression,” but the new law is explicit on the issue of bathrooms and locker rooms: “A pupil shall be permitted to participate in sex-segregated school programs and activities, including athletic teams and competitions, and use facilities consistent with his or her gender identity, irrespective of the gender listed on the pupil’s records.”

A group of concerned voters called Privacy for All Students has since organized a referendum initiative to get the new law repealed, and filed a petition in November with close to 620,000 signatures of support. According to the California Secretary of State Elections Division, 16,008 of these came from Placer County, and enough of them were verified as valid that county registrars across the state must now conduct a full check of signatures to verify every single one. If 504,760 signatures are confirmed as valid by Feb. 24, California voters will decide in November whether AB1266 holds or gets repealed.

Random sample count statistics from the Elections Division project that only 482,582 of the signatures are valid, so the referendum initiative is tenuous. But Superintendent George Sziraki of Placer Union High School District said that whether the law stands or falls is not immediately relevant to Auburn area schools.

“The reality of this new legislation doesn’t change us providing civil rights for all students, including transgender, so it’s really not, from our perspective, a new law,” he said. “There are some things that are unique about it -- identifying transgender students and their access to restrooms and/or locker rooms -- and we’ve kind of taken a holding-pattern approach and watched our surrounding districts before we put a policy in place.”

Sziraki said he expects to bring a new policy on transgender student accommodations to the district’s board of trustees within a month or so, but in the mean time, he has been looking to other districts throughout the state, including Sac City, Berkeley, LA Unified, Oakland and San Francisco, for models on how to address the issue.

In his experience, he said, students who identify as transgender and ask to use certain bathrooms want increased privacy, and sometimes they’re OK with unisex bathrooms, which the district can provide. Sziraki said the district’s policy is to talk with any student who has an issue, but he acknowledged that if a student were to press the matter and insist upon using the bathroom of an opposite gender that he or she identifies with, legislation requires that the school accommodate.

Yvette Johnson-Grey of Colfax, whose 14-year-old daughter identifies as transgender and claims to have been bullied for it, said she is not convinced by other parents’ concerns that students might abuse this new rule. If there is ever an issue with students’ claiming to be transgender so they can use a bathroom for snooping, she said, it should be addressed as a behavioral issue.

“That’s a disciplinary issue, not a transgender issue. … I think the school doesn’t even have an issue with that,” she said. “They have a separate non-gender bathroom that they let transgenders use. They should have a unisex (facility). I just think (opponents of AB1266) are blowing it out of proportion, that the school has to have their eye on the kids regardless of their gender identity. It’s the character of the student, not the way they dress or look.”