After transgender sports bill falls short, Mat-Su school board proposes change to achieve same goal

One board member raises concern over exclusivity, while state senator says athletes would still have opportunities

By: - June 8, 2022 4:00 am
Girls run on a soccer field in a stock photo. (Photo by Maskot/Getty Images)

Girls run on a soccer field in a stock photo. (Photo by Maskot/Getty Images)

The Matanuska-Susitna Borough School Board last week introduced an activities policy revision that would prohibit transgender girls from competing in girls sports. It resembles a bill that the Legislature failed to pass during the regular session. If adopted, the revised policy would change current practices at the Mat-Su Borough School District. 

“The proposed amendment more or less mirrors the proposed legislation introduced by Sen. Shelley Hughes this past legislative session,” Board President Ryan Ponder said at the June 1 school board meeting, when the revision was first introduced. He was reading from a statement from the board’s policy committee, where the revision originated.

“The proposed policy ensures that all female athletes within the district have an equal playing field to compete and win,” Ponder read. 

The proposed policy change regarding extracurricular and co-curricular activities adds this language: “A student who participates in an athletic team or sport designated female, women, or girls must be female, based on the participant’s biological sex as either female or male, as designated at the participant’s birth. The biological sex listed on a participant’s birth certificate may be relied on to establish the participant’s biological sex designated at the participant’s birth if the sex designated on the birth certificate was designated at or near the time of the participant’s birth.”

Current practice in Mat-Su schools

Reece Everett, associate superintendent of the Mat-Su Borough School District, said the district does not currently have a policy addressing the participation of transgender athletes, but a transgender student would be allowed to participate on a team based on the gender they identify with. Everett is in charge of district-wide activities, extracurricular and co-curricular programs.

“We would honor that student’s consistently identified gender in the way that we would otherwise support them. The things that come to mind would be bathroom usage or locker room usage, and so we would extend that into extracurricular participation,” Everett said on the phone Tuesday. “If it was a gender-based team, we would allow that student to participate based on their consistently identified gender. That would be our current practice. We don’t necessarily have a written policy on that.”

Everett does not know of any transgender female students who’ve participated in a female sports team in the Mat-Su school district. “Now, that’s not to say that there hasn’t been,” he said. “At the site level, there very well could be or could have been transgender females participating on a female-only sport. In my time, I do not remember any being brought to my attention, or any concerns of that nature.”

If passed, the revised policy would change current practice. It would only impact teams within the Mat-Su Borough School District; it would have no impact on teams from other districts competing within the Mat-Su school district. The board made that clear during the June 1 meeting.

“If the board votes to approve this revision, I can envision that being challenging to navigate,” Everett said. “The ripple effect or ramifications, I don’t know what that would look like, but I anticipate that that could be challenging.”

Debate over inclusiveness

Mat-Su school board member Dwight Probasco raised concerns during the June 1 meeting. He wondered if the revised language conflicted with the board’s policy about non-discrimination in district programs and activities. He also wanted legal advice on how the revision pertains to Title IX, the federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in all education programs and activities that receive federal funding. He also had concerns with using a birth certificate to determine gender if a student comes from a state that doesn’t require one at birth.

When reached Tuesday, Probasco called the revision exclusive and worried about transgender youth already being an at-risk group. “I do believe a role of the school district is inclusion of all students,” he said. “I think we should be inclusive and students should be allowed to participate in activities and sports. All students.”

State Sen. Shelley Hughes of Palmer sponsored Senate Bill 140, which the policy revision is mirrored after. She rejects the idea that it’s exclusive: “From my vantage point, we are not robbing anyone of an athletic opportunity by this kind of policy because every student, no matter their gender identity, will have at least two opportunities to participate. They have the opportunity to play with a team aligned with their sex at birth or they can play on co-ed.”

Senate Bill 140 was tabled twice during the final days of the regular legislative session. She said there were the votes to pass it but not the political will.

“If it would have been a few weeks earlier, we would have gone through all those amendments, but ultimately when the bill came to a final vote, it would have passed. So I will plan to bring it back,” Hughes said during a phone interview Tuesday. “I think any school district, in the meantime, that wants to put forward changes such as this, they’re responding to the parents, they’re responding to the young girls and young women, and I think it’s the right thing to do.”

The Mat-Su Borough School Board is scheduled to vote on the revision at its June 15 meeting. Athletic practices resume in August.


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Lisa Phu
Lisa Phu

Lisa Phu covered justice, education, and culture for Alaska Beacon. Previously, she spent eight years as an award-winning journalist, reporting for the Juneau Empire, KTOO Public Media, KSTK, and Wrangell Sentinel. She's also been Public Information Officer for the City and Borough of Juneau, lead facilitator for StoryCorps Alaska based in Utqiagvik, and a teacher in Tanzania and Bhutan. Originally from New York, Lisa is a first generation Chinese American and a mom of two young daughters. She can be contacted at [email protected].