- Associated Press - Thursday, August 27, 2015

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - South Dakota’s high school activities association on Thursday largely maintained its policy allowing transgender student athletes to request to play on the team of their choice, increasing the likelihood Republicans in the statehouse will push legislation to change it.

The South Dakota High School Activities Association Thursday gave preliminary approval to some revisions to the 2014 policy such as establishing an independent hearing officer - rather than a committee - to evaluate applications. But they retained the basic policy of allowing students to request their choice of team. A legislative committee studying the association voted last week to draft a measure to confine students to the team matching the gender on their birth certificates, which could go to the Legislature in the upcoming session.

The association’s policy aims to provide a way for transgender students to participate on the sports teams that reflect their gender identities rather than the sex listed on their birth certificates. So far, a transgender student hasn’t made a request under the policy.

Linda Whitney, a member of the association’s board of directors, said the changes to the policy, which could be finalized at a November meeting, are an improvement.

“I do hope that this helps (lawmakers) understand that we are listening to them and their concerns,” Whitney said. “We’re trying to revise it because our member schools have indicated to us, and we serve member schools, that they want us to have a policy.”

But Whitney said if lawmakers pass a birth certificate requirement, “we will certainly abide by that.”

Republican Rep. Jim Bolin, who authored a legislative proposal to void the board’s policy last session and is one of the leaders of the study committee, said he would not support a policy that doesn’t include the birth certificate requirement.

“It’s an issue that I don’t think will go away because it involves a contradiction of an official state document by minors,” Bolin said.

Association board Chairman Jason Uttermark said he doesn’t view the differing approaches to the policy as a conflict with the Legislature. He said policymakers are attempting to figure out the right thing to do and said he would “wholeheartedly” accept a legislative directive.

“We’re really not coming up with a philosophical position,” he said. “Our policy is strictly a legal position, and right now it’s what we believe is putting our member schools in the best situation from a possible lawsuit.”

Efforts to block the policy during the 2015 session stalled in the South Dakota Senate after easily passing through the House.

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Corey Brown, a Republican from Gettysburg, said he thought last session that a fix should come from the activities association rather than the Legislature.

“I’m hopeful with the attention that’s been here they’ll take a close look at that tomorrow and maybe have some revisions that will fit closer to where some of the public sentiment seems to be at,” Brown said ahead of the meeting. “Short of that happening, I would probably agree that I would expect the issue to be back before the Legislature if it’s not resolved.”

The revised policy would require a student and parent to notify the school that a student wants to play on the sports team that matches their gender identity, and the school would assist in gathering documentation.

The school would submit the application and documentation to the association for review by an independent hearing officer who must be a licensed attorney and a member of the State Bar of South Dakota. The student or the student’s school could appeal the hearing officer’s decision to the association’s board of directors for a final decision.

Kendra Heathscott, head of transgender services at the Center for Equality in Sioux Falls, said that lawmakers trying to repeal the policy need to realize that transgender students want to have opportunities that other students have.

“We will fight this until trans kids are just called kids,” Heathscott said.

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