WELLS – The school board narrowly approved a revised policy that allows students to request “alternative facilities” if they identify as transgender.
The policy will also allow a school to keep a pupil’s gender status private from parents and guardians.
Elko County School District trustees passed the new policy by a vote of 4-3 after an hour-long discussion March 26 at the Wells school auditorium that included comments from parents and teachers and discussion from board members.
Trustees Jim Cooney, Teresa Dastrup, Candace Wines and Ira Wines voted in favor of the policy. Tammie Cracraft-Dickensen, Kieth Fish and Brian Zeiszler voted against it.
The updated policy stipulates the students’ facilities throughout the district “that are designated for one gender shall be used only by members of that gender ...” but students “who, for any reason, are unwilling or unable to use a facility …” will be provided alternative facilities as an accommodation.
Presented to the board and posted on the district’s website on March 22, the new policy includes 10 sections that explain the district’s position on maintaining confidentially; definition of terms such as gender, gender non-conforming, and gender identity and expression; NIAA athletics; and dress codes.
The previous policy, adopted in October 2014, prohibited staff and students from “discrimination and harassment against a student based upon the student’s gender identity or expression.”
The board action comes more than three years since the school district denied a transgender student’s request to choose which restroom and locker room to use at Spring Creek Middle School. The decision resulted in an investigation by the Nevada American Civil Liberties Union stating the district had violated the student’s privacy rights.
At the time, former superintendent Jeff Zander said the district’s “policies in place … protect [students] from harassment or discrimination regarding gender identity.”
Zander reported eight months after the ACLU’s letter was sent, the district did not hear anything further from the organization.
At last week’s meeting, nine members of the public, some parents and teachers addressed the board with a mix of support and questions directed at the new policy, particularly item No. 3, stating that parents would not be informed if their child declared themselves to be transgender at school.
Attorney and child advocate Michelle Petersen and parent Marianne Johnson each expressed concern with the item.
“At no time does a parent relinquish their rights to make decisions for their children, or relinquish their rights to know about their children’s behavior in school,” Petersen said.
“The only reason I can imagine is if they thought a child would be physically abused by their parents if they said they was transgender,” Johnson said later, “and I think that would be horrible … but I don’t think that’s a good reason to keep parents in the dark.”
Input from schoolchildren on the effects of the policy was necessary to consider, said Wells parent Alicia Kooi.
“I definitely think that the kids should be part of the process,” she said. “We should know how the kids are feeling and what they’re going through because the parents aren’t there.”
Former school board president Thad Ballard urged the board to adopt the policy because it “makes the boundaries clear.”
Parent and teacher Robert Johnson also encouraged the board to pass the policy.
“I believe the policy adopted by the school meets the needs of transgender individuals, and my needs as a parent and a teacher,” Robert Johnson said.
During board discussion, trustees Jim Cooney, Candace Wines and Teresa Dastrup voiced their support for the policy, stating that the revised policy was an improvement over the older one.
“It seems to me that the administrators at different sites [are given] a lot more flexibility and some direction that hasn’t been in the current policy,” Cooney said.
Candace Wines also stated she was in favor of the policy, but held some concerns about item No. 3.
“I am not a fan of that their parents not be contacted if there is a situation,” Wines said. “The parents have a right to know what is going on with their child.”
Trustees Keith Fish and Tammie Cracraft-Dickensen each shared their concerns that the policy may not meet state guidelines and may leave the school district open to a potential lawsuit in the near future and bankrupt the district in the process.
Cracraft-Dickensen said she thought the board should take more time to fine-tune the policy and “vet it a little more thoroughly,” although the district’s legal counsel approved the draft of the policy.
“I think we’re rushing this vote,” Cracraft-Dickensen said.
Trustee Brian Zeiszler agreed that the policy “needs to be retooled a little bit and maybe addressed at an upcoming meeting” by other attorneys associated with the state to put the district “in a better position … to be able to justify this policy.”
Before casting the tie-breaking vote, board president Teresa Dastrup said she understood parents’ concerns about item No. 3 and said she knew the policy would affect students within the district. The policy, however, may provide an opportunity to remodel schools to create safe accommodations for students who “desire more privacy” and “satisfies the needs of everyone.”
“We can make things work. We can make things right from every perspective, and we can find a good middle ground,” Dastrup said.