The District 202 School Board May 1 approved revisions to policy that, beginning next fall, will allow students to use restrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their gender identity.
The vote was made before a packed room with many students and other supporters holding signs that said, “vote tonight for equity.”
“The policy committee drafted what we have here tonight. There was a first read then second reading. No opposition was expressed,” said Board Member Gretchen Livingston. “Here we are on the cusp of what should be an easy step given our leadership on equity. We do not treat students differently based on skin color or disability, nor should we on gender identity.”
Ms. Livingston referenced Dr. Robert Garofalo, a Division Head of Adolescent Medicine at Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital, saying that, “a transgender girl is a girl. To suggest otherwise is cruel. Schools who have adopted [this type of policy] have failed to see problems. We have an obligation to do better for our students who have spoken so eloquently. Let’s get it done.”
Policy No. 7:10 already states that, “equal educational and extracurricular opportunities shall be available for all students without regard to color, race, nationality, religion, sex, sexual orientation, ancestry, age, physical or mental disability, gender identity, status of being homeless, immigration status, order of protection status, actual or potential marital or parental status, including pregnancy.”
The proposed revisions added that, “Students shall be treated and supported in a manner consistent with their gender identity. This shall include but not be limited to students having access to gendered facilities, including restrooms and locker rooms that correspond to their gender identity.”
Further revisions allow the Superintendent to “adopt appropriate procedures to effectuate this policy, including but not limited to the policy that the District shall treat and support all students in a manner consistent with their gender identity.”
An amendment was proposed by Board Member Mark Metz to strike language mandating an “advisory committee of stakeholders, including students, to formulate recommendations on appropriate procedures to effectuate the policy that the District shall treat students in a manner consistent with their gender identity. “
“It’s not up to the Board to mandate a committee,” said Mr. Metz. “If the Superintendent wants to, then go ahead,” but there should not be a mandate.
Board Member Jonathan Baum said the policy should contain the advisory committee mandate because that provision was drafted by students and parents who want to continue to be engaged.
“That’s the one area I had issue with,” said Board Member Monique Parsons, pointing out that there has been no advisory committee for equity work in the past so the Board “should be consistent.” The advisory mandate, “sets a tone I can’t support.”
“We are here because the existing policy has protections that were not properly protected. [Some students were] not allowed to use locker rooms even though current policy allows. The Board needs to tell the Superintendent to take input from the community,” said Ms. Parsons.
Ms. Livingston noted that the school does have advisory councils for Latino and black affinity groups. The Superintendent can reject their advice but this is a “critical component” and is “about valuing what the community, students, and parents have to say.”
“I’m against the mandate, not the community,” said Ms. Parsons.
Board Member Doug Holt spoke against the policy change, referencing “evolving law” on transgender issues, saying that “no other district has policy like this. We haven’t heard strong recommendations. Let’s see how this plays out.”
Mr. Metz’ proposed amendment was passed by the Board, and the proposed policy revisions, as amended, ultimately passed, 6-1, with Mr. Holt casting the only dissenting vote.
“This Board just made history,” said Superintendent Eric Witherspoon. This new policy is “unlike any policy in any other district. This is a huge step forward.”