By Russ Pankonin and Jan Schultz
The Imperial Republican
Chase County Schools (CCS)and Perkins County High School are in two different NSAA districts.
Last Thursday, two school superintendents representing Districts IV and V were on opposite sides of the 6-2 NSAA board vote that puts a transgender student participation policy into effect.
Sutherland Superintendent Dan Keyser just joined the NSAA board in August as the District IV representative. The previous district director took a job out of the state so stepped down from the position.
Keyser was one of two board members to vote against the NSAA policy.
Alan Garey, superintendent at Medicine Valley High School in Curtis, represents District V which includes CCS.
He voted for the policy last week.
While he acknowledged that District V as a group voted 15-8-1 for an NSAA bylaw that would recognize the sex of a student for activities based on their birth certificate, he said his vote was to get a policy in place.
“Where I was coming from, it gets a policy in place. As an organization, we needed to have something,” he said.
He said schools statewide were wanting something “to go on.” This puts something in place, he said.
Garey said the transgender issue has been discussed by the board for three years now. It reached a point where the membership came forward with a proposal for the district meetings.
Going that route wouldn’t put anything in place until August, he said. The policy adopted by the NSAA board last week went into effect immediately.
Since April 2015, Keyser has been attending NSAA board meetings and sitting in on executive sessions in preparation for going on to the board.
While he said his phone hasn’t been ringing off the hook, he said he’s sure gotten a lot of e-mails on the transgender issue.
“This is the hottest topic that I’ve had to deal with in my 36 years of education,” Keyser said last week after the vote.
The issue affects not just the general public but parents, coaches, administrators, patrons and Christians, he noted.
In his vote against the NSAA policy last week, Keyser said he was representing his district and the way they voted at the district meeting of schools Wednesday, Jan. 13.
He said 47 of the schools he represents voted in favor of supporting the gender-at-birth bylaw proposal to determine eligibility. Only seven schools voted against the proposal with one abstention.
Keyser believes the gender-at-birth proposal is less discriminatory than the new policy adopted by the NSAA board. It’s safer for competition and the fairest and most equal option, he said.
Keyser said his faith factored in, as well, noting the transgender issue is “outside of God’s plan.”
Garey said his personal views on the issue are not applicable, but added that the issue definitely brought out a lot of personal preferences from those he’s heard from.
“It’s a difficult subject. There are a lot of deep beliefs so I guess I’m not surprised on the push-back,” he said.
He said he’s heard from schools, staff and patrons on the issue, adding the District V patrons have been in strong support of the birth certificate determination on gender.
At the Representative Assembly vote in April, he believes the five votes from District V, one of which will be his, will mirror last week’s district vote.
He didn’t want to say how he’ll vote in April.
Keyser said he feels empathy for transgender student athletes. It’s a no-win situation for them, he noted.
He said statistics indicate that students stressed by their own transgender issues are more likely to commit suicide.
He said puberty is an influencing factor and that once a student athlete moves out of puberty, fewer identify with transgender issues.
Garey said they’ve been told there are transgender students in Nebraska coming through the school systems.
“There are students out there. Are there going to be more? I can’t answer that ei-ther,” Garey said.
Tenopir: difficult issue
Dr. Jim Tenopir, the former NSAA executive director who is now serving as the interim director, said this has been a very difficult issue.
He said if the Representative Assembly approves its bylaw change and supersedes the board’s policy, it will be the most restrictive transgender policy in the nation.
Tenopir, who served as executive director of the National Federation of High Schools after leaving the NSAA, said the national association has no policy on transgender student athletes. That’s left to the state associations.
During the NFHS’s winter meeting, he said the transgender issue was an ongoing discussion.
Tenopir realizes that Nebraska is a conservative state but he also believes the policy is in the best interest for all kids. Sometimes doing what’s best for kids can be uncomfortable and this is one of those times, he said.
He said various organizations from the Nebraska Catholic Conference to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) all have different viewpoints on how to handle the issue.
In fact, the ACLU urged the board not to pass last week’s policy. They believe the new policy is too restrictive to meet and thus further discriminates against transgender students.
Tenopir predicted that if the assembly approves the gender-at-birth bylaw, litigation will quickly follow.