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Albert Lea school district to form task force for federal directive

Albert Lea district officials are seeking input after a federal government directive released last week directed public schools to permit transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their chosen gender identity.

Albert Lea Superintendent Mike Funk Monday night recommended Director of Secondary Programs Kathy Niebuhr lead a task force that would analyze the directive and establish a policy framework for the district.

Niebuhr hopes the task force will meet by June 1. She expects the task force to include 20 to 25 people with equal representation from the school and the public. She wants the task force to include administration, including Athletic Director Afton Wacholz, a school board member, a teacher union representative and a paraeducator representative.

She hopes the task force will present their findings to the Albert Lea School Board in August.

School board member Dave Klatt said the task force is a proactive way for the district to address the issue before a final decision is made. He said he does not have an opinion on the issue, but said he is interested in how the directive will play out.

“It will be interesting to see how it all shuffles out,” Klatt said.

Funk said he recommended Niebuhr lead the task force because she is the lead in policy development at the secondary level, where any potential policy change would have the most significant impact.

“She is a well respected leader in the community and a former teacher of the year for Albert Lea Area Schools,” he said.

He said the district could lose $2.7 million in federal funding if the directive is not followed.

The guidance from leaders at the Justice and Education Departments said public schools are obligated to treat transgender students in a way that matches their gender identity, even if their education records or identity documents indicate a different sex.

The U.S. Justice Department ruled May 11 that a North Carolina law that requires transgender people to use public bathrooms that conform to the sex on their birth certificate violates federal civil rights laws and can’t be enforced. The state was put on notice that it is in danger of being sued and losing hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding.

The law has been broadly condemned by gay-rights groups, businesses and entertainers. Some have relocated offices or canceled shows in the state. Several other states have proposed similar laws in recent months limiting protections to lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender people.


— The Associated Press contributed to this report.

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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