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Alaska state school board considers rule that would limit transgender athletes


Alaska state school board considers rule that would limit transgender athletes

May 31, 2023 | 9:00 am ET
By James Brooks
Alaska state school board considers rule that would limit transgender athletes
The thunderbird is seen above a basketball rim in the Terry Miller Building gymnasium, behind the Alaska State Capitol, on April 18, 2023. The building is the former site of the Capitol School. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)

The state of Alaska is proceeding with plans to limit transgender students’ ability to participate in sports and activities.

On June 8, the state board of education will consider a regulation that would bar transgender student-athletes from participating in school sports and activities under their gender identity. It would limit students to either multi-gender sports teams or “a separate team for each sex with participation based on a student’s sex assigned at birth.”

The meeting was announced in a public notice published Sunday.

The board’s June 8 decision is unlikely to be final: The board will only be voting on whether or not to advance the proposal to a 30-day public comment period. A yes vote means the board would consider public comment, then approve, reject or amend the regulation at its next public meeting. A “no” vote could kill the idea, at least temporarily.

“Right now, the board is going to vote on whether or not to put these out for public comment,” said Heidi Teshner, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development.

“We will always take all public comment into consideration,” she said.

The publicly posted agenda says the draft regulation is still subject to review and approval by the Alaska Department of Law, but Teshner said she expects no substantive changes between what’s online and what will be considered at the meeting.

Twenty-one states bar transgender students from participating in sports or other activities under their preferred gender identities, and various state school sports organizations have issued a variety of rules nationwide.

For the past three years, the Alaska Legislature has failed to pass a bill that would set statewide policy on the topic.

Nationally, supporters of these rules have said that women’s sports would be harmed by the participation of transgender athletes. Transgender rights advocates disagree, and have said that athletes should be able to participate in sports that conform with their identities.

The draft regulation under consideration by the state school board cites a state law that requires equal opportunity for male and female athletes and says that the board should consider procedures on an annual basis to implement that law.

In March, the school board approved a resolution asking the Department of Education to draft a regulation like the one that is now on its June agenda. 

That resolution referred only to girls sports; the new proposed regulation refers to both boys and girls teams.

Current rules in place by the Alaska School Activities Association, in charge of regulating school sports here, allow individual districts to set policies. 

ASAA considered but rejected a statewide policy earlier this month, saying that it would await regulatory action by the state.

The department’s proposed regulation doesn’t say how it would be enforced. Teshner said that would be an issue left to the discretion of ASAA or another, similar organization regulating the sport or activity.

Sen. Löki Tobin, D-Anchorage, is an outspoken opponent of the new proposal and said that when she learned about it from the Beacon on Tuesday, it was “very much expected,” given prior actions by the board.

Teshner informed Tobin and other legislators in April that drafting work was underway.

She and other lawmakers have questioned the legality of the plan, saying that it could amount to the department adopting regulations without legislative authority.

She also said that forcing students to provide medical records or undergo physical exams to fulfill the regulation is a violation of their right to privacy, something enshrined in the Alaska Constitution.

“There’s so many questions I have — particularly when we get to some of the smaller schools,” she said, “not to mention, the stigmatization and the continued demonization of a group of really vulnerable young kids.”