News, Culture and NPR for Central & Northern Michigan
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
91.7FM Alpena and WCML-TV Channel 6 Alpena are off the air. Click here to learn more.

Michigan schools take different approaches to LGBTQ policies.

Quinn Dombrowski

Topics surrounding transgender youth have been a part of national conversation this year. As schools are coming back from summer vacation, some have different ways of approaching policies concerning LGBTQ students.

Currently, schools in Michigan can decide if they want to have a policy laying out how the school will take on transgender issues.

Farwell Area Schools in Clare County is one school that has made a policy regarding transgender students.

The policy takes on issues including locker room and bathroom access, name/pronoun change and protecting transgender students from harassment and bullying.

When a student or parent initially notifies the school about their gender identity, the policies state that the district does not require a student to present documentation of a gender transition.

The policy also addresses student records, saying the district will make the changes to records including information systems, class rosters and diplomas.

According to the policy, the district will “make a good faith effort to make the appropriate changes regardless of whether the student has ‘transitioned’, sought a legal name change, or taken other legal or medical action.”

The school’s policy also includes a Gender Support Plan, which helps transgender students navigate school life.

Students must complete the process to complete a name and pronoun change on their academic records. In the plan, a student and their parent or guardian will meet with a counselor and an administrator.

“We try to support each student where they are,” Farwell Superintendent Steve Scoville said. “And the board's feeling was that that Gender Support Plan was the best process to go through to support a student in that area.”

Scoville said it’s important to have this plan in place to support transgender students, especially since LGBTQ youth have higher rates of suicide attempts and mental health issues.

According to the 2022 National Survey by the Trevor Project, nearly 1 in 5 transgender and non binary youth have attempted suicide.

“In that plan, we involve the counselor, the principal, the parents, because of the the suicide rate for this group of kids is like six times higher than the average group of kids, so we want to be aware of that, and support them in that process,” Scoville said.

According to Scoville, when making the policy, the board wanted parents to be involved in the process which is why they added them to the plan.

“Our board did not want to exclude parents from this process,” Scoville said. “They wanted parents involved in that process. And that's where they kind of relied on the Gender Support Plan and will work with the student to go through making sure how they're going to notify their family, peers, friends, whoever doesn't know and go through that process.”

If a student isn’t out to their parents yet, the policy says “administrators shall involve the school counselor or social worker and consider the health, safety, and well-being of the student, as well as the school’s responsibility to keep parents informed, before making any disclosure.”

On the other hand, some schools decide to not have a policy regarding transgender youth, including Big Rapids.

Big Rapids Superintendent Tim Haist said the school doesn’t have a plan for transgender students because they don’t want any students treated differently.

“We want all students to be treated equally, and all students to be treated the same, and so we don't have a specific policy for that,” Haist said.

Haist said the school district takes on the issues on a case-by-case basis, and the schools primary goal is for their students and staff to “treat everyone with respect and dignity at all times.”

“We treat each student on a case-by-case basis,” Haist said. “If they want to come in and talk to us or talk to a counselor, and then we will work with each student and each family to make sure that they feel supported.”

Haist said he hopes LGBTQ students know where they can go if they need help.

“I hope so,” Haist said when asked if students knew where to go for assistance. “I hope that all students know that they can go to our guidance office to see our counselors and social workers, if they need help. We want all students to know that we have supports available for them.”