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Far western Ky. schools confirm plans to adhere to anti-trans law

Stu Johnson

With Senate Bill 150 now fully in effect in Kentucky, public schools across the state are grappling over whether or not to bring their policies in line with a law that’s widely expected to harm transgender and nonbinary students.

SB150 – passed by the state legislature this spring – regulates how school districts accommodate transgender and nonbinary youth. It outlines which bathrooms and locker rooms they can use, bans protections from intentional misgendering by school staff, and moderates at which grade levels lessons on sexual health and gender expression can be taught.

While Jefferson County, Kentucky’s largest school district, is contemplating ignoring the law altogether, many in western Kentucky – including Calloway County Schools, Graves County Schools, McCracken County Schools and Paducah Public Schools – plan for their policies to conform to its standards.

McCracken County Assistant Superintendent Michael Ceglinski said the school district’s administration made the decision internally to follow the new state guidelines.

“I think the goal of what the state legislators are wanting to do is to ensure that … we're not trying to guide young minds into making gender decisions and things of that nature,” Ceglinski said. “Those aren't things that we've ever done anyways.”

Ceglinski said the biggest change to policy from SB150 is how sexual education is taught in schools. McCracken County Schools will not be offering sexual education below fifth grade. For grades 6-12, parents of students will have to opt in for their child to receive education on topics regarding sex and gender. If a parent chooses not to opt their student in, the school will provide an alternative curriculum as a substitute.

The law also bans schools from policies that would penalize staff or faculty for intentionally misgendering students. This means that teachers would not be required to use students’ preferred pronouns and could freely “dead name” pupils, a term that refers to using the name a transgender person used prior to transitioning.

Ceglinski said the only path for a trans student to have teachers and staff refer to them by their preferred name and pronouns would be through a formal meeting with parents and school officials.

“Until there's people around a table and hearing this thing out, we're not going to change [a student’s] name in the computer system to say something different. It is what it is,” said Ceglinski. “I don't think it matters what I [or other educators] think. There's a law that says we can't do it.”

LGBTQ advocacy groups in Kentucky have protested and rallied – alongside LGBTQ and allied students, parents and teachers – against SB150 as it made its way through the legislature this spring. The ACLU of Kentucky fought against the legislation, filing suit against the state multiple times to stop its going into effect and calling it “the worst anti-trans bill in the nation.”

Now, with the law in effect and a new school year coming, some parents and students are concerned about the potential impact these policy changes could have on students grappling with their own identities.

Max Misiewicz is a rising 8th grader at Reidland Middle School in McCracken County. He’s a percussionist in the school’s band and his mother, Jennifer, describes him as being “very intelligent and mature” for a 13-year-old.

Since coming out to her as trans at age 10, Jennifer said Max’s school life has been “a positive experience.”

Aside from some teasing from fellow students and being misgendered by substitute teachers, “everything has been wonderful.” They had Max’s legal name changed to prevent dead naming and she said the staff at school has accommodated his transition, allowing him to use the office restroom. Now, with the policy changes going into effect, Jennifer worries that some of Max’s protections could be taken away.

“Nothing has been said to me at all, nothing whatsoever,” Misiewicz said. “I did call the principal [Thursday] morning to be reassured, hopefully, that [Max] will still be able to use the office restroom. Because, he is definitely not comfortable going to the ladies and he’s not comfortable going to the men’s either.”

Looking forward, Misiewicz said she hopes teachers and staff can continue to try and create an accepting environment for transgender youth, despite the new regulations. However, Misiewicz expects some individuals may be slow to accept them.

“I feel like people are too quick to say ‘Well, I believe this,’ and ‘I believe that’ instead of being empathetic and putting themselves in someone else's shoes. Maybe you don't understand the trans thing,” Misiewicz said. “You don't have to believe in it. You don't have to agree with it. You don't have to understand it. Just respect people. The only ‘trans agenda’ here is to live our lives in peace.”

Zacharie Lamb is a music major at Murray State University and is a Graves County native.
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