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Sweet Home School Board talks about transgender policy

Members of the Sweet Home School Board heard a presentation on gender identity and transgender youth policy on Tuesday evening.

And it led to a lengthy discussion on the topic.

No action was taken. But the board talked about creating a policy, and whether there was a need. Several board members balked at the idea of a separate policy.

School Board Vice President Michael F. Morrow pointed out that the district has five separate policies already on the books which deal with student harassment.

“We’re here to represent all the students,” Morrow said. “By having one separate policy for a group of kids, we’re violating the rights and privacy of other kids.”

However, Board Member Marianne Jasen said a policy would provide direction for Superintendent Anthony J. Day when issues arise. The board made no decisions on a policy and will discuss it further.

The presentation, given by Colleen A. Sloan and Lindsay Menasco from Erie 1 BOCES, covered definitions and terms used when referring to gender identity and transgender youth, federal and state laws in place to protect students and why a specific policy geared toward transgender students may be beneficial for the district.

Sloan began the presentation with an overview of terms and definitions used by districts when discussing transgender policy.

Among the terms included in the presentation were cisgender, transgender and gender nonconforming. The definitions, however, are not set in stone, she said.

“There are many different ways to define these terms,” she said. “The bottom line is, if you are going to decide to adopt a policy on gender identity, you may want to consult with local organizations that work with LGTB youth who can advise you or give you some input into the types of definitions they believe are appropriate to use.”

Pointing to a study conducted by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network in 2013, Sloan said nearly 75 percent of LGBT students have reported being verbally harassed in school, over 36 percent report being physically harassed and more than 16 percent of LGBT students reported being physically assaulted in school.

“These are some of the kids who are in our schools in New York State,” she said.

Sloan discussed several federal and state statutes that come into play in regard to transgender students, including the New York Dignity for All Students Act, which addresses gender identity.

In regard to having a specific policy for transgender students, some districts have decided against adopting a policy, Sloan said, deciding that having DASA in place is enough to protect students.

However, a specific policy lends clarity to the issue, Menasco said.

“It puts the faculty, staff, students on notice of how the district deals with these issues,” she said. “It also sets expectations for the district.”

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