KS bills, targeting trans students, require school trip room assignments based on sex at birth

Tribune Content Agency

Kansas lawmakers are considering a pair of bills that would require the separation of students based on biological sex at birth on school-sponsored, overnight trips.

The bills are the latest example of lawmakers targeting transgender students this session just days after Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed a bill that would bar transgender student-athletes from girls’ and women’s sports.

The identical House and Senate bills define biological sex “without regard to an individual’s psychological, chosen or subjective experience of gender.”

The bills come after last year a female Eudora student was assigned to share a room with a transgender girl on an overseas trip to Costa Rica. The Sentinel, a subsidiary of the conservative Kansas Policy Institute, labeled the incident as a school-sponsored trip, prompting concern from some conservatives.

Rep. Adam Thomas, an Olathe Republican, said the bills’ introductions were “most likely related” to the incident.

Eudora School Board Superintendent Stu Moeckel said the overseas trip was not actually school-sponsored and was organized by an outside organization, which Moeckel said he did not know the name of, though the school had authorized the students to leave the state. Since then, the district has taken action to ensure that similar trips are not a condoned field trip. The school met with the girl and her family.

Thomas, who chairs the House Committee on Education where the bill was introduced, said the bills are a “perfect message of inclusion” because it “considers the personal beliefs of everyone,” including those with conservative beliefs.

He also emphasized that some students — both cisgender, or someone who identifies with their sex assigned at birth, and transgender — may be uncomfortable with sharing rooms, and that accommodations should be made for both sides.

“You don’t want to sacrifice the mental health of some for the mental health of others,” he said.

But Senate Minority Leader Dinah Sykes, a Lenexa Democrat and ranking minority member on the Senate Committee on Education, called the bills “divisive” and “a disgrace.”

“It’s just another bill targeting a certain population and telling them they do not belong in Kansas,” she said. “It makes a spectacle of something that’s not an issue.”

Leah Filter, a lobbyist for the Kansas Association of School Boards, said her organization plans to oppose the bills because there should be “local control over local situations,” not state-mandated “one size fits all” legislation.

She added that requiring transgender students to do something different from other students could set districts up for a discrimination lawsuit based on sex, and expressed concern that the bills could prompt districts to give each student their own rooms, which is expensive.

Brittany Jones, a lobbyist for Kansas Family Voice, said the bill “reiterates the way most students and parents expect the schools to operate” and that the details are left up to school boards.

Former state Rep. Stephanie Byers, a Wichita Democrat who was the first transgender person elected to the Legislature, said the bills would “open the door” to harassment, bullying and potential violence, especially since there is not usually an adult present in the room with students.

“Over and over again lawmakers ignore the safety, health and welfare of trans kids,” said Byers, a retired teacher.

She said the series of anti-transgender legislation is a part of a “long game of chess” where “marginalized people are the pawns.”