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State Board of Education responds to efforts to disband it

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Republican lawmakers are sending a message to the Michigan State Board of Education: "Remember who holds the purse strings."

That's from Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Saginaw Township, who's sponsoring a resolution to replace the board with a Department of Education run by a governor-appointed director.

This is a response to a recent set of guidelines the board proposed for schools on how to best support transgender youth. The draft proposal recommends letting students use the bathroom that fits their gender identity. It also suggests teachers and administrators not reveal a child's gender identity to their parent to protect students from discrimination at home.

Republican lawmakers say the proposal is an attempt to push a progressive agenda on schools without consulting the Legislature.

But Board Vice President Cassandra Ulbrich said the board typically makes its own decisions. Besides, these are just suggestions for schools, not mandates. 

She said the only goal with the proposal is to protect students.

"They (schools) can opt not to use them, but these are issues they definitely need to be thinking about," she told Michigan Radio's Stateside on Thursday.

Ulbrich added these guidelines should help schools avoid issues with Title IX, which protects against sexual harassment in schools and other public institutions. She said along with the national discussion on transgender rights and "bathroom bills" in other states, the conversation on sexual assault is also inspired the board to act.

"They had legitimate concerns: Are we complying with Title IX? What do we need to do to make sure we are in compliance?" Ulbrich explained. "And that's why the draft guidance was created, to give schools that kind of guidance." 

Several other state legislatures have been debating similar transgender rights issues. In North Carolina and Tennessee, lawmakers passed bills preventing people from using the bathroom that matches their gender identity. While LGBTQ rights activists condemn such legislation as discriminatory, supporters say these "bathroom bills" keep young women safe. 

Rep. Kelly echoed these arguments as he pushed back on the Michigan Board of Education's suggestions. He said if using bathrooms based on gender identity was allowed, a man could "decide to identify as a woman one day," and enter a women's restroom to assault a young girl, and  no alarm would be raised.  

Michigan Republicans appear to be using legislation to send a message to the board. Last month, for example, a House subcommittee votedto defund board members' travel budgets. House representatives in support of that measure also said the board should have worked collaboratively with the Legislature. 

But even Kelly doubts his resolution will get the necessary votes to enact his proposal, which requires a constitutional amendment.  

"Pragmatically, though, I think it's one that sends a signal that we're paying attention to what they're doing," he said. "We do hold the purse strings and are prepared to deal with it should they pursue some of these pursuits that I think are unfounded and unsupported by the citizens at large." 

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