Fargo superintendent pushing back against new transgender law

May 10, 2023

FARGO (KFGO) – In an emotional address to the Fargo School Board Tuesday night, Superintendent Rupak Gandhi shared his administration’s stance that, unless the Board directs it otherwise, the district will prioritize keeping students safe over obeying a new North Dakota state law that creates a number of restrictions and policies related to transgender students.

Gandhi’s statement came just one day after Governor Doug Burgum signed a bill which prohibits schools from requiring teachers to refer to transgender students by the pronouns they use, requires teachers to tell a parent or legal guardian if the student identifies as transgender, and prohibits transgender students from using the bathroom of their choice without prior approval from a parent or guardian.

Gandhi started his presentation with a litany of statistics about suicide rates among young people, and the various factors that can increase or decrease the chance a child might attempt suicide. He said suicide continues to be the second leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 24 in the state and LGBTQ youth are more than four times as likely to attempt suicide as their peers.

Gandhi cited research that suggests that only one-third of LGBTQ youth experience parental acceptance, one-third experience parental rejection, and the final third choose not to disclose their LGBTQ identity until they are adults. Another study found that LGBTQ adults who report high levels of parental rejection are eight times more likely to report attempting suicide and six times more likely to report high levels of depression. At the same time, he said, at least one accepting adult can reduce the risk of suicide attempt amongst LGBTQ youth by 40%.

“I think my message is pretty clear as I draw across multiple pieces of data. There has been some legislation passed this year that is not supportive of our students,” Gandhi said. “As a district and as an administration, my responsibility is to our students and our educators and there will be times where we have to make decisions that may not be interpreted in accordance with the spirit of state law.”

Gandhi said he believed the new state law was likely in violation of current federal law.

“It is unfortunate. I think we as adults in North Dakota in our legislative session failed our children because we are putting our politics over their humanity,” he said.

Gandhi said the district will follow the data when it comes to deciding what to do.

“We’re going to do what’s right for kids. It’s not against parents, it’s for kids. I say unless the board tells us otherwise: we will not openly out any student because of one law if we know that’s going to cause harm to that child. We will not participate in anything that we think is going to subject students to further discrimination or increase self-harm. That will be our course moving forward,” he said.

While no official action was taken by the Board, there appeared to be unanimous support for the district’s position as outlined by Gandhi, with each member speaking up afterwards with words of thanks and encouragement to the superintendent.