Duluth Public Schools approves new gender inclusion policy

The unanimous vote allows students to be addressed according to their gender identity. Much of the new policy codifies existing laws or regulations set by the league and the state.

students stand in line along sideline at football field, with bleachers in background
Duluth Public Schools' new gender inclusion policy includes restroom and locker room stipulations that cite a Minnesota antidiscrimination law.
Tyler Schank / 2020 file / Duluth News Tribune

DULUTH — A new policy in the city's public school district aims to address inequities that transgender, two-spirit, gender-nonconforming, and other students confront “as they navigate a system designed using a gender binary model.”

Duluth School Board members on Tuesday unanimously approved a districtwide gender inclusion policy in front of an unusually large crowd at East High School.

The governor took the action as many states across the U.S. consider bills that would restrict doctors from providing minors with hormones or surgery to help people express their gender identities.

“We’re charged with making every student feel safe … and we can’t ignore a minority group of students just because there’s a majority that wants to exist in the status quo and the status quo isn’t working for the minority,” board member Alanna Oswald said shortly before the vote. “I understand this makes other students feel uncomfortable, but it’s not a damaging uncomfortable. The greatest amount of growth happens when you’re not in your comfort zone.”

Details of the new policy:

  • District personnel may only disclose a student’s gender identity to other district staff on a “need-to-know” basis. The policy also bars district employees from confirming the same to parents of other students or community members.
  • Students or their parents may request the district use the student’s preferred name, gender identity and pronouns in education records. Those are distinct from the permanent “official” student records that indicate a student’s legal name and gender. Those can only be changed with a court order or similar, but staff can nonetheless note that a student prefers a different name or identifies as a gender other than the one in those records.
  • At their request, transgender or gender-nonconforming students have the right to be referred to at school by a name and pronouns that align with their gender identity. A legal name change or change in school records isn’t required.
  • Students must have access to the restroom that corresponds to the gender identity they assert at school, and for any student, not just transgender students, to have access to a “single-user” bathroom if they need or ask for it.
  • Transgender and gender-nonconforming students may use locker rooms on an “individualized basis” that aims to maximize their social integration and provide an equal opportunity to participate in physical education and sports. Transgender and gender-nonconforming students can access a locker room that corresponds to the gender identity they assert at school. Like the restroom policy, it also calls for students to be provided, if possible, with a “reasonable alternative changing area” such as a nearby restroom staff if they need or ask for such an accommodation.
  • All students can participate in physical education and health classes, as well as intramural sports and school trips, in a way that fits their gender identity.
  • Students may participate in interscholastic athletics in a manner that fits their gender identity, so long as it complies with Minnesota State High School League regulations.

Much of the new policy codifies existing laws or regulations set by the league and the state. The restroom and locker room stipulations, for instance, cite a Minnesota antidiscrimination law .


“People can choose which pronouns they use, of course, but the procedure to go through to make sure that you’re identifying is something that’s not taken lightly within the school district,” Superintendent John Magas said Tuesday. “Nor is it something that, with a single day, that somebody is able to say, ‘I’m going to identify this way, this time so I can go into the girls locker room,’ for instance. That’s one thing that we don’t see, and hasn’t been a problem in other districts at all, from what I’ve seen.”

Notably, the policy does not address whether a district employee can disclose if a student is transgender or gender-nonconforming to the student’s parents. That’s a gray area that’s complicated by the confidentiality of therapy, a student’s age and other factors, according to Jacob Laurent, the district's climate coordinator, who works on social, emotional, behavioral and mental health issues districtwide.

We’re charged with making every student feel safe … and we can’t ignore a minority group of students just because there’s a majority that wants to exist in the status quo and the status quo isn’t working for the minority.
Alanna Oswald, Duluth School Board member

“Every case is unique,” he said. “That might be something we address further in the regulation, but, as of right now, I’d say there isn’t a full consensus on that.”

Still, a forthcoming fact sheet tells district staff that, if a student tells them they're transgender or gender-nonconforming, the staff member does not have to offer that information to the student's parent, but, "if directly asked, the law says you must give an honest answer of what you've been told."

The push for the new policy began as Laurent noticed that many students who harmed themselves were questioning their gender and felt that it wasn’t safe to fully come out. They’re probably one of the district’s most vulnerable student groups, he said.

More than 50% of transgender youth seriously considered suicide in the past year and nearly 20% attempted it, according to a survey conducted by the Trevor Project , a nonprofit that aims to prevent those deaths. Data from that survey was presented to Duluth teachers at a training session last year.

Of the five people who spoke to the board in a public comment period before Tuesday’s vote, three indicated they were in favor of the new policy and two were skeptical.

“Youth learn best when they feel safe, when they feel seen, when they feel heard in our classrooms,” said Jason Kenison, a licensed teacher who advises an LGBTQ youth group at Life House, a Duluth organization that helps homeless youth. In a followup call with the News Tribune on Wednesday, Kenison stressed that he was speaking strictly for himself.


“It is our duty as educators to meet students where they’re at,” he said Tuesday. “It is our duty to recognize and help them in their development as they see fit.”

Francis Wittenberg, a Parent Teacher Association member, suggested the school board postpone its decision until district leaders could collect feedback from parents.

“I recommend you offer PTA and parents the time and information to prepare how this will impact our children’s education and personal development for all,” Wittenberg said. “You will have the support and encouragement from parents if you offer us to be part of the solution and detail a course of action if the policy is approved. Give us the opportunity to work with you instead of against you.”

Brandon Stone, a parent of four, told board members he only heard about the policy via an email the night before.

“I am against it, but I’m not against making something work,” Stone said. “As far as lockers and bathrooms go, I think there’s a lot of work that needs to be done in that portion. I wish you guys would reconsider it and give us more time, bring it before the PTA and get a little bit more voice into it.”

To get help

988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline: Call or text 988 or chat at

Crisis Text Line: Text MN to 741741 

More Lifeline resources:

South St. Louis, Lake, Cook and Carlton counties/Fond du Lac Band: 218-623-1800 or 844-772-4742 

North St. Louis County/Bois Forte Band: 218-288-2100 

Itasca County: 218-326-8565 or 211* 

Koochiching County: 800-442-8565 or 211* 

*St. Louis County 211 services are not crisis-related 

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Joe Bowen is an award-winning reporter at the Duluth News Tribune. He covers schools and education across the Northland.

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