Germantown student challenges school district’s transgender policy
A Germantown High School student says the school district’s policy changes regarding transgender students are “inherently dangerous” and is seeking to reverse the changes.
Skye Fetzer, a junior and co-administrator of the school’s sexuality and gender equality club, created an online petition at change.org. As of November 3, it was signed by more than 850 people. The petition objects to the policy changes approved by the Germantown School Board on Sept. 26.
The change requires permission from parents or guardians for the school to use transgender-preferred names and pronouns. The revised policy also says the district will include parents or guardians in “discussions with the student regarding the student’s transgender status.”
Fetzer wrote in the petition that the policy is harmful because it “forces transgender children to come out to their parents, which can put them in a dangerous situation.”
He also said that transgender people would “face discrimination when it comes to the facilities they use” under the new policy.
A school board member supports the current, revised policy
Russell Evert, a school board member who also serves on the policy committee, said the goal of the updates is to make it clear that parents should be involved in discussions with their children about being transgender. In a statement to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Evert said the transgender policy is intended “to create an educational environment that is safe and welcoming for all students.”
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He said the policy previously included “phrase that gave conflicting guidance.”
“The updated policy clarifies to parents, students and staff that the district believes parents have a fundamental right to participate in discussions and decisions related to their child’s gender identity,” Evert said in a statement. “It’s having those discussions and decisions in the home with the family, where that’s the place, rather than in our classrooms, where our primary mission is education.”
“I would encourage members of the community to read the full policy without bias, and I believe they will find it protects the civil rights of all involved,” he added. Evert emphasized that this was his personal statement, not on behalf of the full board.
In addition to adding language requiring consent from a parent or guardian if a student wants to use other pronouns or names, the amendment also removed a sentence requiring district officials to obtain a student’s consent before discussing their transgender status with a parent or guardian.
The Arrowhead School Board recently approved a similar policy that requires parental permission to change students’ names, nicknames and pronouns for school use.
“You need space to be yourself”
Fetzer said the updated policy puts transgender children at risk “by limiting access to support they may desperately need.”
Fetzer said people may tell a coach, teacher or counselor that they are transgender, but may feel uncomfortable talking to their parents. Under the new policy, they may fear that their parents may be notified.
Fetzer said he knows about 10 students at Germantown High School who are openly transgender, but more than a dozen who are “closet.” He said that at a recent meeting on sexual and gender equality, several people raised concerns about the revised policy.
In his petition, Fetzer cited a 2020 National Library of Medicine article that said 82% of transgender youth had considered suicide and 40% had attempted suicide. “This has to do with the transphobia they face in their everyday lives, including at school, at home and in the workplace,” Fetzer wrote. “Furthermore, having one supportive adult in the life of transgender youth significantly reduces the risk of suicide.
“These policies put transgender children at risk by limiting access to the support they may desperately need.”
Fetzer said the Sexuality and Gender Equality Club provides a safe place for people to talk about LGBTQIA, transgender and other related issues. Having a supportive school environment is important, he said, noting that he didn’t have that kind of support when he came out as transgender in seventh grade.
“It was hard in high school because there were no organizations. But in high school … there are organizations to belong to,” he said. He said he has taken a leadership role in talking about being transgender and helping classmates who need someone to talk to. “It comes with a lot of responsibility,” he said. One of its goals is to help students have a safe experience at school.
“They just need a safe space to not be judged,” Fetzer said. “They need space to be themselves. There is discrimination all around. She is everywhere.”
No prior knowledge of the policy update discussion
Fetzer said neither he nor other students were aware of the policy updates until they were approved. He said several school officials informed him of the changes.
Fetzer said if he had known about the proposed changes, he and other concerned students would have attended the meeting to speak.
He also argued that the updated policy partially violates the Wisconsin Statute, which requires parental consent for name changes only under the age of 14. “It does not apply to changing pronouns,” he added.
Fetzer said he plans to discuss his concerns about the updated policy with the school board, but he’s not sure when.
Cathy Kozlowicz can be reached at 262-361-9132 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @kozlowicz_cathy.