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Lawmakers push schools to consider transgender sports policy

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Published: Sep. 23, 2020 at 3:02 PM MDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota Republican lawmakers on Wednesday pushed the state’s high school activities association to reconsider its policy of allowing transgender students to compete in the gender with which they identify.

The activities association currently allows transgender athletes to get an exemption to compete in the gender category that is different from that on their birth certificate. But a similar policy in Connecticut is currently being challenged by the U.S. Department of Education and by a federal lawsuit brought by the families of three female high school runners who competed against transgender athletes.

Dan Swartos, the executive director of the South Dakota High School Activities Association, said the association would like to see the outcome of that lawsuit before reconsidering its policy.

But Republican lawmakers on the Legislature’s Government Operations and Audit Committee asked him in a Wednesday meeting to consider sending a legal analysis of the association’s policy to school boards and having them weigh in on the policy. Swartos said he would consider doing that.

In order to change the rules on athletic participation, school boards across the state would need to vote on the changes. The Legislature could also pass a bill to ban transgender athletes from competing as the gender with which they identify.

Currently, there are no transgender high school athletes competing in girls' sports, according to Swartos. There are a small number of transgender athletes competing in boys' sports.

The lawsuit in Connecticut arose after lawyers from the conservative nonprofit Alliance Defending Freedom filed a Title IX complaint on behalf of high school athletes who lost to two transgender competitors in girls' track. The complaint contends that the transgender girls have an unfair physical advantage that violates Title IX, the federal law designed to ensure equal opportunities for women and girls in education, including athletics.

The Department of Education has threatened to withhold federal funding over Connecticut’s policy. But transgender rights activists have called the threat an effort from the Trump administration to “attack” transgender students.

Speaker Steven Haugaard, a Sioux Falls Republican, has contended that he is looking into the South Dakota policy to ensure that schools are aware of their legal and financial liability.

Swartos presented lawmakers with the results of a survey he sent to school administrators during the summer of 2019. Over 80% of administrators who responded supported the current policy.

But Haugaard took issue with how Swartos conducted the survey and asked him to send schools legal analysis and give school boards an opportunity to respond.

Sen. Susan Wismer, one of just two Democrats on the committee, called the committees' pressure on the issue an “obsession” that was targeting transgender children.

“It’s petty; it’s mystifying; it’s obnoxious to me,” said Wismer, who is from Britton.

But the committees' chair Rep. Sue Peterson, a Republican from Sioux Falls, said that the policy deserved attention because developments at the national level could affect schools in the state.

“This is not petty; this is not minute,” she said.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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