October 2014

A week ago, most Minnesota parents of school age children were entirely unaware that the Minnesota State High School League was on the verge of passing a dangerous and controversial new policy that would affect the extracurricular activities of over 500 schools—public, private, religious and home schools. The policy provided special accommodations for transgender students to participate on the team of their choice – the team matching their biological gender or cross over to the team that matched their gender choice.

The implications of boys and girls co-mingled in games and locker rooms were profound.

Last Sunday, Child Protection League Action (CPLAction) took out a full page, color ad in the sports section of the Star Tribune newspaper to alert the public that the policy that was moving rapidly under the radar and coming up for a vote this week.

The secret was out.

The public reacted swiftly. Within a matter of days, the MSHSL received over 10,000 emails. TV and radio outlets all over the state, and many nationally, ran a story. Talk radio took it up, social media lit up, and emails fanned out across the state. Suddenly, it was on everyone’s radar.

Organizations, schools, school board members, and individuals lined up to testify at Tuesday’s first public hearing. TV cameras elbowed for room with the standing-room-only crowd of elderly to students, moms to grandparents, and attorneys to former athletes. This is what public awareness looks like.

In his opening statement, MSHSL Executive Director David Stead made the most unfortunate and inaccurate claim that federal law required the Board to pass this draft policy. He was corrected by at least one attorney in the crowd who clarified that guidance from the U.S Office of Civil Rights does not constitute federal law.

CPLAction State Director Michele Lentz said, in response to the Director’s complaint about the newspaper ad, “If the MSHSL had taken out a full page ad in the Sunday paper to inform the public that an important and controversial policy that would affect all schools was up for consideration, we would not have had to.”

What became painfully obvious through testimony is that only one state organization seems to have been given a seat at the MSHSL policy-drafting table – OutFront Minnesota, an LGBT special interest group. That’s no way to make public policy or to build a consensus. And, unfortunately, it undermines the entire credibility of the MSHSL, which has a very important role to play.

In the end, after being inundated since Sunday with public reaction, the MSHSL Board prudently did not take up its original draft proposal. One Board Member pulled out and introduced a new and hastily constructed substitute that may have had some merit. But expecting to submit something, on which the public has had no opportunity to either review or comment, is completely irresponsible.

The Board chose to table the newest draft until its December 4th meeting. CPLAction will make that draft available to you, study it carefully, and make our analysis public.

The MSHSL has indicated it will appoint a committee to allow input from a wider group of the public. That’s good news. Any future policy draft should not reflect the interests of one particular group of students to the exclusion of all others. We hope they will include CPLAction in the discussion. We have demonstrated our willingness to represent the interests of the general public and the broad base of student interests in this conversation.

As with many other testifiers at the public hearings, CPLAction firmly believes all students should be allowed to participate in extracurricular athletic programs. They should be able to do so in a way that does not jeopardize anyone’s personal privacy rights, safety, or well-being, or in a way that jeopardizes the values and institutional integrity of MSHSL member schools.

This issue is far from resolved. All of us – parents, schools, organizations, churches, and interested individuals—must stay completely engaged until a fair, reasonable, and safe policy is in place in Minnesota. Please make contact with your local principals, administrators, school board members, neighbors, and your area MSHSL representative soon. December 4th will be here too quickly. Tell them what you think, ask them to be engaged and informed, and request that they get back to you on their involvement.

Working together has temporarily prevented something very unsafe from happening. But our voices must continue to be heard. Thank you.