Response to Questions About ¨and/or¨ language in policy 8011

Policy 8011 reads in part,

¨WCS shall accept the gender identity that each student asserts reflecting the student’s legitimately held belief once the student and/or his or her parent/guardian, as appropriate, notifies District administration that the student intends to assert a gender identity that differs from previous representations or records….

…School officials must consider the health, safety, and well-being of the student, as well as the responsibility to keep parents informed.¨

Please know:

  • Parental involvement and rights are paramount to the functioning or our schools.
  • Compliance with the law is a priority for your Board of Education.
  • Policy 8011 was thoroughly reviewed by legal counsel.
  • Parental rights have not changed as a result of the passage of this policy.
  • Parental rights in Williamston are the same as in other Michigan school districts.

We have been asked by friends, neighbors and the media, ¨If you really want parents to be informed, why the ¨or¨?  Why not just say ¨and¨? The simple answer is, this is good policy language. Here’s why.

The “and/or” language is a starting point.  

    • A parent/guardian and student may notify the district.
    • A parent may notify the district
  • OR a student may notify the district.  If a student notifies the district of their intent to assert a gender that differs from previous records the district has ¨a responsibility to keep parents informed¨ as indicated clearly in policy.

Furthermore, by removing the ¨or¨ in that clause, we would potentially require staff to choose between our policy and the law.  Here are direct examples of this potential conflict:

  • The legal right of an 18-year-old student or emancipated teen who wants to initiate a change in identity and does not want to inform their parents.  In this case, if the “or” were excluded from the policy, our staff would be required to ignore board policy in order to uphold the legal rights of the student.  
  • Another and much more difficult potential conflict would arise should a minor student seek to initiate a change in gender identity and request that their parents not be informed.  
    • In accordance with State of Michigan law, Department of Education guidelines, and standards of professional conduct parents will be contacted despite the initial hesitation of the student. Williamston Community Schools professionals are experts at working with students and know how to work with them to include their parents.  
    • However, if the student indicates that by expressing their gender identity, the student will be in danger, school personnel will have to rely on their professional judgement and legal counsel.  In this case, the safety of the student must be pre-eminent. The ¨responsibility to keep parents informed¨ in policy 8011 refers primarily to a legal responsibility, but in extremely rare cases, may also require some professional judgement.

There is no question the board took on a difficult issue.  Like many boards, we could have chosen a ¨wait and see¨ approach.  We passed this policy because we believe our students and staff deserve to know what they should do in this potentially difficult situation.  To summarize policy 8011, WCS will accept the gender identity the student asserts and work to support the student with the involvement of his/her parents.

For more on the legal intricacies of this issue, please refer to pages 14-17 of this paper from the National School Boards Association Council of School Attorneys.