OLYMPIA – Washington public schools should have a policy to prevent transgender students from being bullied, a divided Senate decided Wednesday.
After a debate that bounced between Democrats who called it a bill for basic school safety and Republicans who called it state government interference in local school districts’ decisions, the proposal was sent to the House on a mostly party-line vote.
“Are we the great big school board in the sky that is going to dictate to local school districts … exactly what the policy should be?” Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, asked.
Senate Minority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said rules against bullying already exist, but the Legislature keeps adding new groups of protected students. Maybe next year lawmakers could offer protection against bullying to students who wear hats or T-shirts with MAGA – President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan, he said.
“Will we continue to add something every year until we run out of areas to protect?” he said.
But Senate Early Education and K-12 Committee Chairwoman Lisa Wellman, D-Mercer Island, said there’s a difference between what a student wears to school, and bullying that drives students to commit suicide.
“It’s on a different level,” she said. Some schools do a good job of preventing bullying of transgender students, she said, but when it isn’t being addressed, the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction can bring it to the school board’s attention.
The bill calls for that office and the state school administrators association to develop and regularly update a policy to eliminate discrimination in public schools based on gender identity and to address special challenges and needs transgender students face. Schools would have a “primary contact” for reporting harassment, intimidation or bullying. This contact would undergo a training program to be developed by the end of 2020. Teachers could use age-appropriate materials that deal with sexual orientation and gender identity if it connected with their content area.
Sen. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, said she has supported many anti-bullying bills in a decade in the Legislature but couldn’t support this one. Walsh, who has a daughter who is a lesbian, in the past made an emotional speech in support of same-sex marriage.
Calling attention to one group of the LGBT community might be doing them a disservice, and parents should be the primary source of preparation and coaching for transgender students, she said.
“I just can’t go quite this far,” Walsh said. “I say ‘no’ to bullying for everybody.”
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