Life in the Policy Committee

Passing the Transgender Policy for
the Wissahickon School District.

When I was first elected to the Wissahickon School Board (WSB) we were asked which subcommittees we wanted to be on. I made my selection and the one I didn’t want to be on was the Policy Committee.

Policy? Ugh! Boring!

I deliberately made it a point to never attend any of those meetings but in 2015 – two years in – when the then head of it decided not to run again, the President of the WSB appointed me in her place.  I thought she was trying to get even with me for something I’d done as it was the committee that I thought I had the least empathy with.

Boy, was I ever wrong.

I tell everyone who asks about how I feel about all the work associated with being on the SB and the hostility that it sometimes entails but I always reply, “I’m having a ball!” They look at me as if I’m nuts (which I may be!) but it’s true. Being on the SB has been fun since the first day.

In the months since I started as the Chair, I’ve been able to see how the entire SD was moving and what pushed it – policy. This became another part of the Ball I’ve been having.

Action

About a month ago, everyone started to hear stories of Transgender people wanting to get into bathrooms fitting the gender that they ‘identified’ with. There was much talk and expressions of fear verging on hate. Then there was the North Carolina law that blocked Charlotte’s regulation that permitted Trans people to use the bathroom of their identification. The general theme was that if a Trans women went into a woman’s bathroom, it would only be to rape or violate as many women as possible. Our little girls wouldn’t be safe in schools, museums or anywhere else.

There was a nation-wide negative reaction to NC’s moves with concerts being canceled by major names and talk of taking major athletic events out of NC.

With the little I know about Trans people I felt this was crap generated by fear but I wondered what the Wissahickon School District (WSD) was doing about this so I emailed our Superintendent – as the head of the Policy Committee – to see if we had a policy, what it was and if not, whether we needed to create one, plus wondered if we had any Transgender students.

Neat how power works, huh?

The response I received was that we had no ‘policy’ as such but we had a number of Trans kids and we worked with them on a case-by-case basis and they were permitted to use a single stall, unisex, bathroom. He further informed me that, besides the HS, we had one or 2 Trans students in our MS and even one in one of our elementary schools. He agreed that we needed to create a policy to cover this so that the students would be protected and treated properly and fairly. We directed our Solicitor to begin formulating a policy.

Right after that came a policy from the Federal gov’t, under Title IX, which requires equal protection of the sexes in public schools under punishment of withholding Federal subsidies.

When the Policy Committee met, finally, to study and discuss this proposed policy, there were a number of students attending the meeting as well. This was quite unusual as we are often in these meetings all by ourselves. At a pause between the policies up for discussion, I asked the students what brought them there; was it some kind of cruel teacher’s assignment?

A young woman, who turned out to be the leader of the group, told us that they were part of the Gay/Straight Alliance at WHS and they wanted to see how this policy was being built and discussed.

Interestingly enough, our Solicitor had built a policy based on some other nearby SDs who had created policies recently and what he and they had built was virtually identical to what the Federal requirements were. With only a few tweaks, we agreed we had something we could all work with. It was at this point the student leader spoke up and suggested some additions – mostly additional and modified definitions. We agreed to add them to the ‘definitions’ section.

Going Public

The next Board meeting came and we were to present the proposed policy. In the ‘Public Comments’ section, the student leader spoke and it was a remarkable and wonderful presentation. Toward the end, with little fanfare she shared with us the difficulties of being a Trans person and the problems she had had when she ‘came out’ to her parents.

So much for stereotypes. My wife has often said I was particularly dense but I, for one, ‘would never have guessed.’ But that’s not the point – or rather it is the point. Whichever you chose, she deserves to be treated the way she wants to be seen and our new policy will move to make sure that happens.

After the discussion and in the second of our Public Comments sections an elderly women spoke of how the entire transgender issue is all wrong and that G-d had made the decision for us as to who we should be and the sex we should be and that it was decided by the ‘plumbing’ that we were equipped.  She further suggested that young girls would be unsafe in our bathrooms from pedophiles dressed as woman whose intent was violate our innocent children.

In the Board comments I pointed out that the policy requires that for someone to be considered Transgender they would have to be that way constantly – not just on Tuesdays and Thursdays in order to get into the girl’s locker room to take a peek at naked girls. I pointed out the extreme act it would require to get to see something that is readily online.

Finally, on June 13, 2016, the ‘final reading’ was to take place. The student again spoke in the ‘Public Comments’ section and complimented the WSD staff for squelching any incipient harassment in any of her classes and generally said that WHS had done an excellent job of protecting Trans students.

To Work

In the discussion on the actual policy, there were some uneasy comments from Board members, mostly about privacy for the non-Trans students. I pointed out that there are strict guidelines in the policy to do exactly that: all they have to do is indicate they feel ‘uncomfortable’ with a Trans student in their locker/rest room and they will be given a privacy shield. Also orientations for administration, staff and students will be held in September and repeated each year and as often as necessary to make sure everyone is protected. During all these discussions the 3 girls, members of the Gay/Straight Alliance sat, their hands clasped together. It was quite emotional to watch.

Finally, the vote. It was 9-0 for passage.

Wow! I love our Board.

During the final Public Comments section the same woman came up and asked if ‘We could still fight it.’ The Solicitor pointed out that it had passed but that didn’t stop her, or anyone else, for that matter, from bringing it up at subsequent meetings of either the entire Board or the Policy committee.

In the Board Comments section, I complimented the Board for its ‘courage.’ It isn’t easy going out on a limb as an elected official, making a move that might put us all in the outs. Other members pointed out that while they might still have trepidations about privacy, they had faith in the Administration to assure that the privacy of everyone will be protected.

It was quite a night. As I said, I’m having a BALL!

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