On Oct. 7, the Policy Committee of the District 65 School Board discussed changes to the Board’s policies to prohibit discrimination and harassment based on an employee’s gender or gender-related identity.

The Illinois Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination and harassment in the employment area on the basis of a number of protected categories, including “sexual orientation.”  The Act defines, “sexual orientation” to include “gender-related identity, whether or not traditionally associated with the person’s designated sex at birth.”   

District 65’s Board Policy Section 5:10 currently provides that the District “shall provide equal employment opportunities to all persons, regardless of their race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation …. ,” and it names a number of other protected categories. The proposed amendment adds “gender or gender identity whether or not traditionally associated with the person’s designated sex at birth; gender-related identity or expression.”

The change is consistent with Illinois law.

An amendment to Section 5:10 would require the Superintendent to adopt procedures to effectuate the policy, “including but not limited to procedures pertaining to the treatment and support of all employees in a manner consistent with their gender-related identity.”

In a memo to the Board, the District’s attorney said the procedures would delineate the protections provided to transgender and gender expansive employees, and allow the District to provide more detailed protection for its employees. 

Administrators also propose to amend Board Policy Section 5:20 which currently  prohibits District employees from engaging in harassment or abusive conduct on the basis of an individual’s race, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation,” and it names certain other protected categories.  The amendment would expand the protected classes and prohibit harassment and abusive conduct on the basis of “gender or gender identity whether or not traditionally associated with the person’s designated sex at birth; gender-related identity or expression.” This too is consistent with the Illinois Human Rights Act.

The Procedures

Board member Candance Chow asked how administrators planned to develop the procedures to implement the amended policies. 

Interim Superintendent Phil Ehrhardt asked Board member Elisabeth “Biz” Lindsay-Ryan to explain the timeline. She said the Board was scheduled to vote on the proposed amendments to Sections 5:10 and 5:20 of the Board’s policies on Oct. 21, that a consultant would be retained to work on preparing a draft set of procedures by Nov. 1, that a first draft of the procedures would be prepared by Dec. 2, that stakeholder input would be obtained between Nov. 1 and Jan. 13, and final procedures would be submitted to the Board on Jan. 13, 2020.

“We want to be sure we’re moving as effectively as we can,” said Dr. Ehrhardt, “but we also want to make sure what we create is sustainable and actually meets the needs to protect the rights of those within our goal.”

Meg Krulee, President of the District Educators Council (DEC, the teachers union) said that a team worked on preparing procedures last year and that the procedures were vetted and presented to the Board. She asked if the new consultant would be using what that team had prepared or whether the consultant would be starting from scratch.

“The documents that were worked on last year will be the basis for the work going forward,” said Board President Suni Kartha. “It’s not a matter of starting at scratch.”

She added that the procedures “will be more robust” than the amendment to Sections 5:10 and 5:20 of the Board’s policies.

Ms. Kartha acknowledged that there had been a delay in developing the procedures and said “that is something that should have happened sooner. I apologize for that not happening sooner.”

Ms. Krulee encouraged the administration to hire a consultant “who has expertise and knowledge on the adult portion and our working conditions, and then supplement that with someone who also has knowledge of students and children within the field of LGBTQ+.” She said she was concerned that a consultant that administrators had identified was more focused on students than adults.

One teacher who worked on preparing procedures last year expressed frustration that they had worked for a full year on the project and had asked the District to hire a consultant to assist them, and the District never did. She asked if the people who worked on the procedures last year would be involved in preparing the procedures this fall.

Dr. Ehrhardt  said they would. 

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...