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NCHSAA paves path for inclusion of transgender, home school students in high school sports

May 1, 2019

Transgender high school students in North Carolina now have a clear path towards athletic participation as the gender in which they identify.

The N.C. High School Athletic Association Board of Directors approved language on Wednesday that it says is more inclusive for transgender students who identify as a gender other than the one listed on their birth certificate.

“I think it’s important for us to recognize that, in our handbook, we’ve always had a section that deals with the gender of players,” NCHSAA Commissioner Que Tucker said. “We need to be inclusive and it’s not just about the birth certificate necessarily.”

The policy begins stating, “The NCHSAA allows participation in interscholastic athletics for all students, regardless of gender or gender identification. It is the intent that all students are able to compete on a level playing field in a safe, competitive and friendly environment, free of discrimination.”

As the current policy states, students can play on teams based on the gender listed on their birth certificate. The new policy goes a step further though, allowing students who identify as another gender a way to play as that gender.

“When a student’s gender identity differs from the gender listed on the student’s certificate of birth, the Gender Identity Request Form must be submitted by the member school to the NCHSAA prior to any participation by the student under circumstances that would constitute ineligibility,” the policy states. “The Request should be based on the gender identification of that student in current school records and daily life activities in the school and community.”

Students who wish to submit a Gender Identity Request Form must provide a series of supporting documents. Among them, contacts who can affirm the student’s consistent gender identification, a list of treatments and medications relative to gender identity, interventions that have occurred relative to gender identity, written verification of gender identity from a medical professional, and any other documentation the student or parents believe is relevant.

Once the documentation is received, the NCHSAA Gender Identity Committee will consider the request. The committee will include a current member of the board, LEA or school administrator, a physician with experience in gender identity health care, and a mental health professional.

“The Committee will approve the Request if it finds that the student genuinely identifies as the gender indicated in the Request,” the policy states. It also says the school must verify eligibility in all other aspects.

If such a request is approved, the student’s school may share the gender identity with other schools on an as-needed basis to ensure appropriate accommodations, the policy reads. At that time, the student will be declared eligible to participate based on the student’s gender identity.

This policy did not come up out of the blue for the NCHSAA. At the last board meeting in November, the NCHSAA hinted at an upcoming vote on the issue.

“The discussion has been out there for some time,” Tucker said. “Our board is charged with doing the right thing for students, those students who come through our front doors each and every day, we want to do right by those students.”

Tucker said the NCHSAA office gets “a couple” phone calls or emails a month regarding transgender and gender identity issues, but said she doesn’t think the NCHSAA can quantify the number of students the new policy will affect.

According to the Policy Committee chairwoman Scarlett Steinert, 3 percent of high school students in North Carolina identify as transgender.

Steinert, who is the district athletic director for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, was tasked with leading the committee that looked at transgender inclusion. She said the process took months of phone calls, meetings, and research before they sat down to start writing a policy.

“We tried to get people from all across the state of North Carolina – large districts, small districts, north, south, east, west – and kind of put our heads together,” she said. “We had to learn new verbiage, new language, and I’m still learning. I’m not an expert whatsoever.”

Steinert said the committee has discussed several potential issues, particularly born males who are transitioning to females. This issue gained national attention in February when two transgender athletes transitioning from male to female finished No. 1 and No. 2 in the Connecticut 55-meter state championship.

“I think right from the beginning we talked about born males versus born females and the physical differences ... we’ve talked to many doctors along the way,” Steinert said. “We can’t think of every single scenario.”

Steinert said there will be a learning curve on the topic, especially for coaches and other adults. Tucker agreed, and noted that the high school kids probably won’t have much of a reaction.

“As adults, and you who are the media, this is big news for your guys, but for our students, they’re just going to roll with this ... I don’t foresee any issues and I’m pleased that our board took this step,” said Tucker.

Some home school students have already been participating in high school athletics in North Carolina, but a vote by the NCHSAA Board of Directors on Wednesday will make rules and guidelines more uniform across the state.

According to a new policy passed by the board, home school students who are enrolled in a public school can participate in athletics at that school if they take classes at the school for at least half the day. At least one of those classes must be on campus each semester.

In order to be eligible, home school students must be registered with the home school for 365 days prior to being eligible to participate in NCHSAA athletics. This rule would prohibit students from leaving one high school, enrolling as a home school student, and immediately playing sports at another high school.

Home school students must also be academically eligible at the member school and maintain continuous dual enrollment. Academic eligibility for home school students means they are on grade level according to a nationally standardized achievement test and that they pass all courses taken at the public school.

Unenrollment would make the student ineligible for 365 days.

Many other actions were taken by the NCHSAA Board of Directors on Wednesday. Below is a list of many of those actions:

After the board meeting concluded, Tucker told the media about two potentially newsworthy items for Thursday’s NCHSAA Annual Meeting at the Dean E. Smith Center in Chapel Hill.

According to Tucker, Tuscola High School will appeal to the full membership to request a drop from the 3A classification to the 2A classification effective in the fall of 2019.

Previously, Tuscola appealed to the board of directors to make the change at the midpoint of the realignment period, which is at the conclusion of this school year. The board denied the request and the subsequent appeal.

Tuscola’s only recourse now is to appeal to the full membership. If two-thirds of the present membership at the annual meeting vote in favor of Tuscola, the school will be allowed to move from the 3A class to the 2A class next school year.

Tucker said the vote will happen in person on Thursday and the results will be announced immediately.

Since the realignment period has hit the midpoint, it typically time for the NCHSAA to begin the process of building out the next realignment process. That did not happen at the board of directors meeting on Wednesday.

Tucker said she will have an announcement regarding realignment during her remarks at the annual meeting, but did not elaborate.

In addition, numerous awards will be given out at the meeting, including the announcement of the male and female athletes of the year, as voted on by members of the media covering high school sports.

HighSchoolOT.com will have live coverage of the NCHSAA Annual Meeting on Thursday. Watch the entire meeting on HighSchoolOT.com or the HighSchoolOT app.