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Buffalo Public Schools continue gender identity policy process

The public debate may be over, but now the Buffalo Board of Education’s polarizing gender-identity policy will be discussed further in committee.

But not before about 30 speakers had their say during Wednesday’s School Board meeting on the proposed policy that dictates how transgender students enrolled in the district are treated.

Adrienne Hill said the debate symbolizes that transgender people have been thought of, and that is crucial.

But she also pointed out that the document does not address educating faculty and staff about transgender people nor does it identify who will be responsible for enforcing the policy and what the penalties are for noncompliance.

“Until you have those mechanisms in place, it’s just a pretty piece of paper,” Hill said.

Ra-Chelle West suggested establishing family-style bathrooms like some malls have done. Such bathrooms are large enough to fit two or more people inside with a lockable door.

“Make bathrooms that everybody can use whether you’re transgendered or whatever you’re calling yourself. Just make it open for everybody,” West said.

Bryan Ball and Gerard Williams supported the policy.

“It’s a good policy, and it goes a long way to protecting our most vulnerable children,” Ball said.

“The most vulnerable deserve a safe space during the most sensitive period of their development,” Williams said.

The school district’s policy – which is based on state guidelines – stems from the Obama administration’s directive that every school district in the country must allow transgender students to use bathrooms and other facilities that match the gender they identify with, not the one they are assigned at birth.

“As is consistently recognized in civil rights cases, the desire to accommodate others’ discomfort cannot justify a policy that singles out and disadvantages a particular class of students,” the administration wrote in a letter to school districts.

Students would be allowed access to alternate restrooms as soon as their parent or legal guardian declared a gender identity other than the one listed in other records, such as medical or birth records.

Districts that do not comply could face legal action, or have federal education funding withheld.

It is not clear, however, whether the administration’s directive will hold up in the courts, which have not definitely answered whether federal civil rights law protects transgender people.

In Buffalo, emotions have boiled over in recent forums.

At a board meeting last month, for instance, nearly 150 people turned out to speak about the proposed policy. Most of the crowd – and nearly every speaker – came to show their support, a stark contrast to the opposition that has been expressed at other meetings.

The draft policy will be discussed during the Executive Affairs committee meeting on Wednesday.


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