Saline Board of Education Expected to Vote on Transgender Policy Tuesday
The Saline Board of Education is expected to vote on new policy language protecting transgender and gender nonconforming students at Tuesday's meeting.
Tuesday's meeting begins at 6:30 p.m in the board room at Liberty School. It may be a long one.
At the Sept. 28 meeting, during which the board gave the first reading of the policy, public comment was lengthy and emotional - with most of the commenting in favor of the bill.
Board Vice President Michael McVey said he was initially hesitant about the policy, but he now whole-heartedly supports it, believing it provides important guidance for administrators and teachers.
"It provides for the safety and well-being of students, both physically and emotionally. It's not only gender-affirming, it's humanity-affirming, really," McVey said.
Trustee Dennis Valenti said the district policy is in accordance with federal law. He noted that the US Supreme Court, in Bostock vs. Clayton County, held that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees who are face discrimination for being gay or transgender.
"This is a protected class according to the current US Supreme Court. This policy is conforming with that," Valenti said.
So what does the policy do? According to policy language, the purpose of the policy is to foster an environment where all students are safe and free from stigma and discrimination, regardless of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. The policy aims to ensure all students have the opportunity to express themselves and live authentically.
It's based on Title IX amendments which prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs and activities. . The United States Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights has issued guidance saying it will enforce Title IX so that it prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in education programs that receive federal funding. The new board policy covers conduct in school, on school buses, at bus stops, during school-sponsored functions, and online (when it interferes with a child's ability to participate in school).
Among other things, the policy outlines that:
- Every student has the right to be addressed by a name and pronouns that correspond to the student's gender identity.
- Every student shall have access to bathrooms, locker rooms and changing facilities that correspond to their gender identity. Any student uncomfortable with using a shared gender-segregated facility must be provided with an alternative.
- Every student shall be permitted to participate in physical education classes and intramural sports consistent with their gender identity.
- Schools will accept the gender identity that each student asserts without medical or mental health documents.
- The district will conduct training for all staff members on their responsibilities under the law and policies.
Most of those in attendance spoke in favor of the policy.
A Saline Middle School transgender student named Cal addressed the board to express support for the proposal. Cal cited a study that said 75 percent of transgender youth feel unsafe at school.
"I can't say I'm surprised. Myself and my peers live in fear of the hatred and discrimination. That is so common nationally and in schools just like ours," Cal said. "However, with this policy, knowing we are heard, valued and supported, we don't have to be so scared."
A non-binary high school student named Munya said students feel hurt by anti-trans legislation proposed in states around the country.
"It hurt me. It still does to know that people like me are discriminated against and having their rights taken away," Munya said. "No matter where the hate is coming from, we still in the community fear it. And, God, do we feel it."
Munya's return to full-time, in-person education was fraught with worry, "wondering when the school and community will attack me with seems to be very harmful and discriminatory acts against the youth of a marginalized community," Munya said. "I know that when they aren't being actively protected, we are we become vulnerable and harassed by unfair policies."
Viva Rosenfeld made a tearful presentation about her transgender child, whose child began experiencing prejudice in fifth grade as he transitioned.
"They couldn't stand in the boy line. Friends signed the anti-trans petitions. They were dead-named, misgendered and followed around. I couldn't go into my child's classroom to read a trans book," Rosenfeld said. "At least once a week, they would tell me they wished they had friends in class like other kids did."
Rosenfeld removed her child from Saline Schools and transferred him to Ann Arbor.
"The kids loved their new school because it was supported and inclusive," Rosenfeld said. "I'm sure if I kept my child in the district, they would have is one of the suicide statistics."
Also speaking in favor of the policy were Laura Washington, Saline Middle School Principal, Bridgette Sparks, speaking on behalf of 58 district staff members who signed her statement, Saline City Councillor Kevin Camero-Sulak and others.
A handful of others criticized the policy.
Alex Miller, describing himself as a parent of a Saline student, said he'd support "a policy" for transgender students, but not this one. Instead, he called for a policy that united the community instead of foisting unpopular ideas on all students.
Miller said there "shouldn't be sides" in the community and challenged people to reflect on their school experience.
"I would really challenge anyone to sit here and say they didn't get bullied for one thing. Maybe it was a bad haircut. Maybe it was the way they dressed. Maybe they were overweight. Maybe it's because they prayed and gave thanks before they ate their lunch," Miller said.
Miller said the entire school population shouldn't be required to assimilate to the views of the LGBTQ community any more than they should be required to read the Bible or Quran.
"Why do we pick and choose what groups we accept and make concessions for and which ones we do not?" Miller said. "I, as a parent, do not believe my children should have to see children changing or in restrooms with other genitalia at any age.
RaeLyn Davis called the board discussion on the issue a "big slap in the face," saying the board did not have a transparent discussion on the issue.
"We came here to hear your thoughts, your opinions, to talk about the issues that both sides have. And you sat here between 20 minutes, congratulating each other on your work," Davis said. "I don't know how you guys plan to get the trust back in the community for these and other issues. I think you have an opportunity to provide safety for people and equality for all."