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04/27/2016 - Michigan is finding itself in the center of a storm over policy recommendations relative to LGBT students that have been developed by the Michigan Department of Education and the Board of Education.

The proposed guidelines, entitled "Safe and Supportive Learning Environments for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Students," would be optional for school districts to implement, if approved by the board. However, those opposing the proposed guidelines accuse the board of overstepping its role by promoting policies some claim are an attempt at social engineering that places students in harms way and subverting the rights of parents. Meanwhile, local school districts say without a formal policy in place regarding transgender students, most schools work with students and parents on a case-by-case basis.

Citing higher rates of harassment, bullying, suicide and missed days of school among LGBT students, the state Board of Education's recommendations include measures to foster acceptance of transgender students.

"The department of education and the board of education had been approached by school districts in the state that were looking for some guidance, outreach and help on how to deal with LGBTQ students. At that request, the department and board worked collaboratively to come up with guidance," said Bill DiSessa, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Education. "They are not requirements. It's guidance that is optional for districts that want and are seeking guidance and want to support students."

Included in the guidelines are recommendations for school districts to allow transgender students to participate in sports and other activities in accordance with their gender identity, rather than their biological sex; the use of gender-neutral dress codes that don't restrict clothing choices on the basis of gender; additional staff training; and the encouragement of respect for human and civil rights of all people, including those who are LBGT, across the curriculum.

However, the guidelines have been met with strong opposition from parents, politicians and others who say the guidelines are lopsided, going too far to protect LGBT students while infringing upon the rights of other students and parents.

The recommendations that have received the most attention are those suggesting transgender students be permitted to use the restroom and locker rooms of the gender of which they identify, rather than their biological sex. The guidelines also recommend districts allow transgender students to use different gender names without gaining permission from a parent or guardian first.

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