SAN FRANCISCO — With a law that spells out the rights of transgender students in grades K-12 set to take effect in California, school districts are reviewing locker room layouts, scheduling sensitivity training for coaches, assessing who will sleep where during overnight field trips and reconsidering senior portrait dress codes.
But administrators, counselors, teachers and school board members also are watching and waiting. The law, the nation's first requiring public schools to let children use sex-segregated facilities and participate in the gender-specific activities of their choice, could end up suspended within days of its Jan. 1 launch if a referendum to repeal it qualifies for the November ballot.
To obtain a public vote on the law, passed by the legislature and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, a coalition of conservative groups called Privacy for All Students has collected hundreds of thousands of signatures. Counties have until Jan. 8 to verify them through random spot-checking.
Depending on how many are found to be valid, the secretary of state will approve the referendum, determine that it failed or order a review of every signature.
"We don't know what's going to happen when kids come back from their holiday vacation," said Republican state Sen. Steve Knight, who voted against the law. "Are there going to be 15-year-old girls talking in the bathroom and in walks a boy? What are they going to do? Scream? Run out?"
The California School Boards Association is acting on the assumption that the law will stand and that, even if it does not, existing state and federal anti-discrimination laws, as well as year-old California Interscholastic Federation rules under which athletes may petition to play on a sports team that does not correspond with their biological sex, already compel schools to accommodate transgender students.
The association has advised schools to handle requests on a case-by-case basis and with parental input, if possible, but to be prepared to make private changing arrangements both for transgender students and for classmates who might object to dressing with them.