PIERRE — While the state’s activities association expects that there will again be legislation aimed at overturning or changing its transgender policy, a recent survey of member schools found that more than 80% approve of the policy.
The board of the South Dakota High School Activities Association heard the prediction about legislation and the results of the survey on Wednesday during a strategic planning and goal setting session that also served as an introduction for new board members.
SDHSAA Executive Director Dan Swartos reminded board members that the association’s transgender policy was in development for a year before it was adopted and has been amended several times to reflect the concerns of legislators and member schools.
When a transgender student — someone who lives life in a manner inconsistent with the sex with which they were born — applies to compete in high school athletics, they face a process that Swartos characterized as “pretty involved.”
In consultation with medical and psychology professionals, the student and the school submit paperwork to SDHSAA. The association passes that material on to a hearing officer who verifies the information with the goal of determining that the applicant isn’t trying to gain a competitive advantage.
“We haven’t had much of an issue yet,” Swartos said, noting that fewer than five students have submitted their paperwork. He said that amounts to .002% of the state’s high school student population. “The schools have been very good at policing this.”
According to Swartos, most of the legislative concerns expressed about the South Dakota rule are based on news out of Connecticut where some transgender runners are dominating in track and field.
Transgender policies for participating in high school sports vary by state, Swartos explained, with some having policies similar to South Dakota’s and others adopting the NCAA policy of requiring hormone therapy.
A survey about the SDHSAA transgender policy garnered 128 responses from the association’s 178 member schools.
Of the schools that responded, 81% said they supported the SDHSAA policy. Only 23% supported having no policy at all and 14% said that they had fielded complaints about the policy.
“The schools want us to have a statewide policy,” Swartos said. “They don’t want to have this fight in 178 communities.”
Board member Brian Maher of Sioux Falls said the survey results show that the association is on the right path.
Maher said the data shows that member schools “want the activities association smack dab in the middle of this. “They want the guidance.