By Madeline Coats
WNPA Olympia News Bureau
State senators passed a bill with a 29-20 vote to prohibit harassment, intimidation, bullying and discrimination based on gender identity in public schools.
The vote followed party lines, with the exception of Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, voting with the Democrats, and Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, siding with the Republicans. The bill will move to the House now for consideration.
Substitute Senate Bill 5689 aims to eliminate discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression, as well as address the challenges and needs of transgender students in public schools.
The bill is co-sponsored by 13 Democratic senators and introduced by Sen. Marko Liias, D-Lynnwood.
“I know all of us in the Legislature and all of us in our state are unified in the mission of wanting to ensure that every one of our children receives a quality education,” said Liias. “In particular, our transgender students face a much more difficult and much less safe learning environment.”
Liias explained a national study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finding that transgender students are more likely to report physical abuse in schools, with 40 percent of students reporting physical abuse at school and 80 percent reporting verbal abuse.
SSB 5689 requires the Washington State School Directors’ Association to collaborate with the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to develop a policy and procedure for the protection of all students.
RCW 28A.642.010 prohibits discrimination in Washington schools based on race, creed, religion, color, disabilities, national origin or sexual orientation. The bill would incorporate the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s rules and guidelines developed under the statute to eliminate gender discrimination in Washington public schools.
Sen. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, spoke in opposition of the bill at a floor hearing on Tuesday, saying that the bill may be a disservice to transgender kids.
“A transgender child coming to school darn well knows that they’re going to stick out like a sore thumb,” said Walsh. “That child should have gotten good coaching, fair warning and frankly a lot of support from the parent who loves them and is allowing them and maybe even encouraging them to go to school in whatever gender it is that they choose to be.”
The legislation tasks each school district with appointing one person as the primary contact regarding the bullying policy. A separate point person would be designated for the transgender student procedure.
The primary contact would be responsible for ensuring the implementation of the policy and procedure, receiving copies of all complaints, and communicating with school district employees for monitoring compliance.
According to the bill, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction would develop a statewide training class for the primary contact in each school district and create online training material for school staff on the model transgender student policy.
School districts must share the anti-harassment, intimidation and bullying policy with all parents, students, volunteers and school employees, the bill states.