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Amid great tumult, Red Clay passes transgender policy 4-3

Charles MegginsonEducation, Headlines

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Under Red Clay’s policy, trans students will be able to play on intramural school teams for the gender with which they identify, but will have to follow DIAA trans rules for games with other schools. PHOTO BY CAROL THACKER/GETTY IMAGES SIGNATURE.

Red Clay School District on Wednesday night narrowly approved a policy that reaffirms transgender and gender diverse students’ ability to use the restrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their gender identity.

Under Board Policy 8005, students who “consistently assert” a gender identity other than that which they were assigned at birth may use the corresponding restroom, or alternatively, a single-person restroom. 

While the policy allows students to participate in physical education classes and intramural sports corresponding with their gender identity, athletes on interscholastic competitive sports teams will still have to abide by the policy set by the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association’s board of directors.

School officials, under Policy 8005, are prohibited from sharing information relating to a student’s expressed gender identity with parents unless given permission by the student. 

An earlier draft of the policy would have allowed for parental notification and consent, but it was amended after concerns arose over the safety of students who identify as transgender or gender diverse and whose parents may not be supportive. 

The meeting was contentious from the outset. 

A motion to remove Policy 8005 from the agenda was introduced citing a desire to provide more time for the public to provide input. 

Board member Adriana Bohm said that efforts to delay the conversation represented an “attempt to thwart democracy by stopping a conversation that is pertinent to the health and safety of our students in this district.”

The motion, which had the support of school board president Cathy Thompson, failed. 

After 30 minutes of public comment, the desire for more had diminished.

Thompson said the board had already “heard an awful lot from the public” and offered that the remainder of the public comments be moved to the end of the meeting. 

She noted that the board’s policy review committee received more than 2,000 written comments and the board itself received 370 emails from members of the public. 

The board also engaged with community groups on the subject, Thompson said, before telling the audience that “if we give everyone three minutes upfront — I don’t know how many people are here — but we could be going until late in the evening.’

“This public meeting is to allow the public to observe the board doing its business,” Thompson said. “I think our business, at this point, is to discuss the business at hand, particularly Policy 8005.”

Board member Kecia Nesmith introduced a motion to extend the public comment period until everyone who signed up to speak had a chance. That motion passed four to three despite objections from Thompson and others. 

As a result, nearly 70 people — mostly parents — spoke during the comment period which lasted more than three hours. 

Many parents who spoke in support of the policy had their comments drowned out by boos and jeers. At one point, a parent who said her kindergartener child is transgender was interrupted by multiple audience members. One could be heard shouting “that’s disgusting.”

Later, the crowd became so disruptive that Superintendent Dorrell Green said the board meeting was “not a sporting event.”

Parents who spoke in support of the measure argued that the school district’s responsibility is to create an environment where students feel safe, accepted and comfortable. 

Those opposed argued that the policy would have the opposite effect, often invoking fears that girls in the district could be subject to predatory behaviors by boys in girls’ bathrooms and locker rooms. 

Supporters retorted that the policy would not allow boys in girls’ private spaces and vice versa, but rather that the policy would ensure that girls — whether biological or transgender — would be able to use the appropriate restrooms and locker rooms. 

Opponents also expressed concern that the school would allow students to identify as transgender or gender diverse without so much as parent notification, let alone consent. 

But supporters claimed that students, irrespective of their age, are entitled to the right to privacy and are guarded by equal protection laws. 

After more than three hours of public comment and 40 minutes of board discussion, Thompson said she could not support the policy, citing a desire to involve parents in matters relating to their students, concern that the policy applies to students ranging from pre-K to 12th grade and that the policy fails to define the meaning of “consistently asserted” gender identity. 

She said the district failed to provide adequate time for the policy to be fairly considered and that while she does support transgender and gender diverse students wholeheartedly, the policy puts the district in a precarious position.

“Legal parental notice is a very gray area of the law,” Thompson said. “We need to understand it better and we need to keep parents on the team as much as possible so that the school does not bear the responsibility of relying solely on the student alone in this journey.”

She said the policy should have included a training component to ensure that it is correctly applied and enforced by the district’s faculty and staff.

“I do not believe that we have met our board obligation to the public or to our own duty to act on the proposed policy at this time,” she said, adding, “I believe the policy is just not ready yet — although I do support transgender rights.”

Voting in favor of Policy 8005 were board members Adriana Bohm, Jose Matthews, Kecia Nesmith and Ashley Sabo.

Jason Casper, Martin Wilson and Cathy Thompson voted against the measure.

The policy took effect Thursday morning.

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