New school board members raise concerns over MSHSL gender policy

Typically school boards rubberstamp the district’s renewal of affiliation with the Minnesota State High School League and move on to the next item on the agenda. Yet it was anything but business as usual when the subject came up at the last meeting of the Prior Lake-Savage Area School Board.

Two new school board members elected in 2022 took advantage of the renewal process to express concerns over the state high school league’s gender bending policy, according to Southwest News Media.

In accordance with applicable state and federal laws, rules and regulations, the MSHSL also allows participation for all students consistent with their gender identity or expression in an environment free from discrimination with an equal opportunity for participation in athletics and fine arts.

“Before I cast my vote, I’d like to share a concern that was brought to my attention by my constituents. The concern is regarding student’s participation in a sport based on their gender versus biological sex,” [board member Lisa] Atkinson stated. “I understand that MSHSL has a bylaw in place that allows parents to submit an appeal and with approval, the student can participate in a sport or activity based on their gender identity versus their biological sex. This is not a new ruling, and has been in place since 2016. What is new is the large increase in students experiencing rapid onset gender dysphoria.”

Another newly elected school board member weighed in, as well, on behalf of parents who’ve contacted her over the potential impact of the league’s policy on their children on the field and in the locker room.

School board member Amy Bullyan also expressed she had heard several concerns from parents in the community regarding transgender students participating in sports.

“I have heard some concerns throughout the community on how many transgender students in PLSAS have gone through the process to participate in a sport that is with the opposite sex from which they were assigned at birth,” Bullyan stated.

The district’s activities director pointed out that no transgender students at PLSAPS schools have sought to join a team with members of the opposite sex to date. If and when that happens, it’s up to the district to decide whether the request will be approved.

“A transgender student can participate in a sport of which he or she was assigned at birth, and be able to do that without a problem,” [Jeff] Marshall said. “If a transgender student wishes to participate in a sport or activity they weren’t assigned at birth or the gender that they identify with, that’s when it comes to the school to make that determination.”

Marshall added that when a determination is made at the local level, if a family or student wishes to appeal that decision, that decision then goes to the MSHSL.

So ultimately, it’s up to the state high school league to make the call, the insiders who implemented the policy allowing transgender students to join teams of the opposite sex in the first place. Lisa Atkinson, who garnered the most votes in the school board election last year, urged parents to contact their legislative representatives on the controversial issue.

“My hope is that as a district, we will continue to stand up for our female students when they are feeling marginalized on the basis of sex and make the proper accommodations for girls who are uncomfortable sharing private spaces with biological males and advocating for them when they are forced to compete with a biological boy at state for scholarship opportunities,” Atkinson said. “Female sports should be for female athletes.”

Board members approved continuing with the MSHSL by a vote of 6-1 with Atkinson the lone dissenting vote. But parents with concerns came away knowing they have a voice on the board who’s not afraid of challenging the ever-shifting status quo.