Protesters gather at the March for Our Lives rally in downtown Reno.
CARSON CITY — The Nevada Department of Education again held off Friday on adopting a broad anti-bullying regulation aimed at protecting the state’s gender-diverse pupils.
The regulation includes a list of 20 requirements and measures that school districts around the state must adhere to, including requiring additional gender diversity training for school administrators and recognizing students by their chosen names and pronouns.
State Superintendent Steve Canavero held off on approving the regulation Friday and said another workshop is already scheduled for next Friday, and the date for a final hearing will be announced shortly.
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Friday’s meeting marked the third time the regulation was debated in public.
The proposed regulation is designed to serve as guidance and a bare minimum of requirements that districts must follow. In short, the regulation forces districts to broach the topic of gender inclusion and make an effort to protect and engage its gender-diverse students.
The proposed regulation stems from the passage of Senate Bill 225, signed into law at the end of the 2016-17 legislative session. The anti-bullying bill requires Nevada school districts statewide to enact policies that protect gender-diverse students.
Once officially adopted by the department of education, it’s up to individual school districts to adopt policies that reflect the new requirements.
It will also apply to the state’s charter schools.
But first, the department of education must pass a “model regulation” for individual school districts to base their policies from, which is what was debated Friday.
Department of education officials stressed during Friday’s hearing that the regulation does not criminalize speech such as not referring to a student by their chosen pronoun — a common concern expressed by commenters during the six-hour hearing on Friday. But Canavero said the repeated intentional mis-gendering of a student could fall under the state’s anti-bullying law.
The responsibility of deciding what constitutes bullying would be up to an individual school, said Amber Reed, an education program professional with the department of education who’s taken point in crafting the policy.
It also would not give gender-diverse students carte blanche access to the restrooms and locker rooms they best identify with. Nor would the policy influence curriculum taught in the classroom, though classroom and school activities must be mindful and inclusive of a school’s gender-diverse student.
Many fears expressed during Friday’s hearing centered on the use of restrooms by gender-diverse students, though the regulation has zero mention of restroom or locker room use.
Access to a restroom or locker room would be a “balancing act,” Canavero said during the hearing, weighing the needs of the gender-diverse student and the rest of the student body. It would be a process for each individual student that involves a “team” comprised of that student, a parent and a school administrator.
Friday’s meeting, a day-long affair lasting close to seven hours, was the third meeting on the department of education’s regulation.
A screen in the department of education’s Carson City board room showing live feeds from board rooms in Las Vegas. (Photo: Sam Gross/RGJ)
The hearing was broadcast between the department of education’s board room in Carson City, a board room in Las Vegas and two overflow rooms also in the south.
The day-long debate was fierce — even drawing high-powered political figures to the microphone — but was largely dominated by those opposing the regulation.
“From my perspective, these regulations are over-broad; they’re vague; they’re sweeping; and they go way beyond the language of Senate Bill 225,” said Michael Roberson, the Republican State Senate leader — his comment streamed to Carson City from the Las Vegas hearing room.
Roberson said experts he’s consulted from around the country have called this regulation the “most expansive” school gender-inclusion policy they’ve seen in the United States.
He warned that the state would likely see “lawsuit after lawsuit after lawsuit” if the regulation was passed as is.
But at the end of the meeting, Canavero pointed out that the state’s gender-inclusion policy joins similar policies that have successfully passed and been implemented around the country. He also stressed that the proposed regulations comply with already existing Nevada laws.
Christy McGill, director of the Office of Safe and Respectful Learning Environment for the department of education, told the Reno Gazette Journal that the proposed regulation pulls many “best practices” from an existing gender-inclusive policy at the Washoe County School District.
Washoe County School District’s gender-inclusive policies were enacted three years ago.
Those polices, which include a regulation that allows students to use the restroom that they identify with, were held up as an exemplary transgender policy by the Obama administration in 2016.
Canavero said that Washoe County has reported zero issues associated with its policies since it was enacted.
“We’ve heard a lot of fears expressed,” said Brooke Maylath, president of the Reno-based Transgender Allies Group. “Instead, it must be actual and imminent.”
“Fears being expressed can be valid, but in this case that kind of fear and irreparable harm that they think they will suffer cannot be speculative.”
Maylath, a transgender woman, argues that the intent of the proposed regulation is to define gender diversity to Nevada’s school districts; to give them perspective on what their gender-diverse student populations may be experiencing and what bullying looks like to them.
She told the RGJ that her group has not directly worked with the department of education on crafting this regulation, but they have — in the past and currently — been in communication with the department on related issues.
But Iris Mangosing, a sophomore at Reno’s Hug High School, told the room in Carson City that Washoe County’s gender inclusion policy has put her in uncomfortable situations in the past.
“I personally have experienced multiple counts in the Washoe schools of men and transitioning men in bathrooms and I do not feel safe,” Mangosing said, directing her comments toward the crowd in Carson. “I do not feel comfortable with it, and how dare you say that it’s not a thing, because I’ve experienced it.”
Sex and gender-diverse students were repeatedly referenced as a “special interest group” by those opposing the regulation, their arguments largely religiously driven.
Many were concerned that their rights were being taken away by forcing students to refer to others by their chosen pronouns, or allowing gender-diverse students to use the bathroom that they identified with.
There was also substantial frustration voiced over the fact that the hearing was held in the middle of spring break and on the religious holiday Good Friday.
In the department of education’s Carson City board room, tension between those opposing and supporting the regulation was palpable. During testimony from supporters of the regulation — some of which were transgender — muffled slurs against the speakers could be heard muttered under the breath of some audience members.
In other board rooms across the state, commenters brought up the tension and background comments made by those in the audience there, too.
Though outnumbered, many of the comments in favor of the regulation came from those with personal and in-depth experience with gender and sexuality-related bullying.
Koda Luke, a transgender teenager who says he’s been bullied out of the Carson City School District, and his mother Vanessa, shared his story with the crowd on Friday.
“Koda figured out he was transgender when he was eight years old, and then we went through a lot of tragic things,” his mother said from the Carson City board room. “And It’s been a very difficult battle.”
“I don’t think some of these people realize what these transgender people have to go through. They have to fight for every single thing … bullying is the biggest issue.”
Koda, who’s religious himself, said his experience in public schools has been nothing short of brutal. But the bullying hasn’t phased him.
“I’m not going to stop myself from being me,” he said to the RGJ during a break in the meeting.
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