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BPS controversial gender identity policy up for vote

The polarizing gender identity policy that dictates how transgender students enrolled in Buffalo Public Schools will be treated likely will be voted on at Wednesday night's Buffalo School Board meeting.

Board Member Larry Quinn said Tuesday that he did not want to speculate on whether  the controversial policy would garner enough votes to pass. He had not had a chance to read the final version to see if revisions board members had requested were included in the document.

But at least one board member, Paulette Woods – one of three newcomers who helped upset the former board majority – has been critical of the policy, questioning whether it robs the majority of students of privacy to accommodate a relative few.

That has put her on the same side of the issue as Carl P. Paladino, who voiced similar concerns at a previous board meeting.

The draft proposal covers topics such as dress codes, how school records will be maintained and participation in physical education classes and various sports.

It would allow a transgender student to use the restroom and locker room that corresponds to the student’s consistently expressed gender identity at school. 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.

The restroom portion of the draft policy has proved to be the most controversial. Over the past several months, more than 100 speakers have voiced their opposition during School Board meetings and other public meetings. They say such a policy could leave other students vulnerable to predators and abuse, and could make those students feel uncomfortable. Some  suggested the district designate a separate restroom  for transgender students or establish family-style bathrooms like some malls and airports have done. Such bathrooms are large enough to fit two or more people inside with a lockable door.

Still, another speaker pointed out last month that the most recent version of the document did not address educating faculty and staff about transgender people, nor did it identify who will be responsible for enforcing the policy and what the penalties are for noncompliance.

The policy stemmed from the Obama administration's directive that every school district in the country  allow transgender students to use bathrooms and other facilities that match the gender they identify with - not the one they were assigned at birth.

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 definitively answered whether federal civil rights law protects transgender people.


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