Opinion: How the Utah Senate is enhancing privacy for students in sports

Juan Diego plays a basketball game Feb. 17, 2022.
Juan Diego plays a basketball game Feb. 17, 2022. | Chuck Wing, Deseret News

In 2022, the Utah Legislature created a first-in-the-nation, balanced approach to address transgender students’ participation in competitive sports. The School Activities Eligibility Commission preserves the integrity of sports by making unbiased, evidence-based and data-driven decisions on a case-by-case basis regarding a transgender person’s participation in K-12 gender-designated school sports in public school.

The commission’s goal is to create a path to play that is compassionate and does not embarrass children while also ensuring there is no competitive advantage. As we strive to protect kids, it is essential for us to protect the confidentiality of the cases the commission considers. Students need to know their identity and personal information are protected from public comment or scrutiny.

To enhance privacy measures for students, this session I am running SB219, Student Activity Eligibility Commission Amendments. SB219 better protects students by closing more of the School Activity Eligibility Commission’s proceedings from the public, expanding protections for sensitive information and providing more integrity in the commission’s reporting processes.

Exemption from public meetings

While transparency is essential to instilling public trust in government processes, discretion is sometimes needed to ensure the government does not unnecessarily or unintentionally harm individuals — especially children.

The School Activity Eligibility Commission can currently close its meetings to the public. However, to do so, it must publicly notice when it is holding a meeting and vote to close it. While this does not explicitly identify the child involved, we have found publicizing that the commission is considering a case can stir public interest in a way that risks publicly revealing the child, potentially drawing unnecessary attention and even putting them in danger.

SB219 exempts the School Activity Eligibility Commission from the Open and Public Meetings Act for meetings to consider a student case. The committee will no longer be required to disclose when these meetings occur, adding extra protection to ensure anonymity for the students involved.

Protected records

Once a decision has been made regarding a student’s eligibility to participate in a competitive sport, all information is kept confidential, whatever the final decision may be. Information gathered and discussed during commission meetings is not subject to the Government Records Access and Management Act, or GRAMA. This is all in an effort to protect the student’s privacy.

My bill adds extra protections for records regarding a specific student’s eligibility. It extends protection to commission documents in a school’s possession after a decision is made. The student, their parents, the school and the Utah High School Activities Association are the only ones who should have access to records about the student’s case.

Athletic Association as an intermediary party

All high school student athletes are required to register with the Utah High School Activities Association and provide personal information to demonstrate they are eligible to participate in an athletic team or competition.

Currently, when the commission reviews a case, it communicates the final decision directly to the student and parent. SB219 adjusts this and requires the commission to inform the Utah High School Activities Association of its decision, which will then notify the student and parents. This degree of separation between the commission and the student helps protect the student and the commission by using the Utah High School Activities Association as an intermediary.

Enhancing privacy and safety for all

We must ensure students do not fear that their personal information will be publicized. Enhancing privacy measures for kids will help keep Utah’s children safe while maintaining fairness and safety in high school sports.

Mike Kennedy is a state senator in Utah representing District 21.