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ND Schools Prep for Laws Targeting Transgender Students

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Monday, August 21, 2023   

North Dakota school districts are making final preparations for the new academic year. But there are questions about what the environment will be like for transgender students on the heels of new state laws.

North Dakota recently adopted measures LGBTQ advocates say further erode the rights of trans students - including prohibitions on the use of preferred pronouns, and requiring staff to inform parents if a student identifies as transgender.

Fargo's superintendent has said those directives conflict with federal law, and the district will prioritize non-discriminatory policies.

Grand Forks Superintendent Terry Brenner said they'll comply, but he said he worries about the potential fallout.

"My concern is that the suicide rate was high among transgender students previous to the law being enacted," Brenner said, "and there's concern that that metric will rise moving into the future."

Brenner noted that his office faced calls to refuse to adhere to the new laws - but in the end, the district felt the need to be in compliance.

Prior to the changes, Grand Forks had accommodations for things like pronoun requests - and Brenner said they didn't cause problems.

The issue is playing out in other states, with Virginia's largest school district saying it won't follow anti-transgender laws.

North Dakota also now restricts transgender students from using the bathroom consistent with their gender identity.

The American Civil Liberties Union of North Dakota's Advocacy Manager Cody Schuler said districts have been put in a tough spot.

He said staff know what's best for students, and they now risk playing a role in pushing some of them away.

"There are people who are contemplating or have already left the state because they've lost health care with the gender-affirming care ban," said Schuler. "There are those who have already had a hard enough time in their school districts. Now those families who have transgender family members - it's not a large population in the state - but it is a significantly vulnerable population."

In signing such laws, Gov. Doug Burgum argued the state is balancing the "rights and interests of students, parents and teachers."

But Schuler said what's happening in North Dakota goes beyond many of the culture war debates that have popped up around the country.

"This isn't about a Nativity scene at a Christmas program in the school auditorium," said Schuler. "This is about life-or-death situations with our youth and who they are and their human development."




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