Lawmakers approved Wednesday a requirement mandating school districts separate students by their biological sex for rooming assignments on school sanctioned trips, a response to a 2021 incident in northeast Kansas.
The move comes as legislators are weighing a range of policies that squarely impact transgender youths, including a requirement that they use the bathroom or changing room that corresponds with their assigned gender and restrict trans athletes from participating in girls’ sports.
The latest effort, Senate Substitute for House Bill 2138, would grant students who feel their school district does not follow the language a cause of action if there is retaliation from administrators.
The Kansas Senate approved the bill on a 29-11, with Sen. Jeff Pittman, D-Leavenworth, supporting the bill and Sen. John Doll, R-Garden City, voting no. The vote was otherwise along party lines.
The legislation is a response from a 2021 controversy in Eudora, where a female student was assigned to share a bed with a transgender peer on a trip to Costa Rica. When the girl said the arrangement made her uncomfortable, she was ignored, parents say.
“Somebody needs to stand up and take this on the shoulders and say we must protect all students,” Heather Whelan, who said her daughter is friends with the girl in question, told the House Education Committee. “If accommodations need to be made for the transgender students then we want that protection as well. But to mix genders is unsafe at best and breaks the kids put in that position.”
The trip wasn't formally school-related but teachers supervised as chaperones and fundraising activities were organized via school email addresses.
Policies in Eudora have been updated to give parents more advanced notice about rooming assignments for overnight trips, but critics say it is still insufficient and statewide action is needed.
Education groups say law would tie hands of local school boards
“The fact of the matter is the majority of school districts do not have an overnight travel (policy) and who's going to share the room with whom and what accommodations are we going to make for students to best address the needs so that all students who are on overnight travel feel safe," Sen. Molly Baumgardner, R-Louisburg, chair of the Senate Education Committee, said on the Senate floor.
But education groups argue the measure will tie the hands of local school boards who, Eudora incident aside, they believe are generally effective at handling the issue.
Jim Karleskint, a former state legislator who represented the Eudora area and a lobbyist for the United School Administrators of Kansas, said that the bill’s policies could adversely affect the safety of transgender students.
“This isn’t going to fix the problem,” he told the Senate Education Committee. “You’re going to put a trans guy in a room with a bunch of guys. What is he going to come out like? A bloody pulp, probably. This bill does not solve the problem.
“I feel for the girl from Eudora and anyone else in this situation. But let’s use common sense.”
There is an additional concern that the bill’s language could move school districts out of compliance with federal rules, anticipated next month, that would state that discrimination against transgender students violates Title IX.
It is unclear how this might apply to the issue of sleeping arrangements but Scott Rothschild, communications editor for the Kansas Association of School Boards, said the prospect of putting school districts in a bind was very real.
“That would put school districts between a rock and a hard place — they would either have to break federal law or a state law,” he said.
This article originally appeared on Topeka Capital-Journal: Critics say Kansas requiring rooming on biological sex is anti trans