Educate All Students: Larry Miller's Blog

December 15, 2014

Baraboo School Board to Weigh Transgender Policy

Filed under: LGBT — millerlf @ 3:34 pm

Baraboo News Republic 12-15-2014

The Baraboo School Board is scheduled to take a final vote Monday on a new policy that would establish guidelines for including transgender students in co-curricular activities.

More than a dozen community members voiced opposition to the policy at the last board meeting, and people on both sides of the issue plan to speak out during Monday’s public comments.

All board members except Ed Mortimer approved the policy on its first reading Nov. 24.

School officials said the policy, introduced to the board last month, is based on a Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association policy passed last year, and similar guidelines developed by other states and the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

Deputy WIAA Director Wade Labecki said the association approved its policy to ensure member schools had guidelines for transgender students’ participation in sports.
“We felt that we needed to be proactive,” Labecki said, citing U.S. Department of Education guidance that transgender students are protected under Title IX, a federal law that prohibits discrimination based on sex in federally funded activities and education programs.
School districts in Oshkosh and the Milwaukee area already have established their own transgender student athletics participation policies.
“It’s a question that comes up probably three to four times a year, on how to address that issue,” Labecki said, adding that he has fielded questions from rural and urban districts across the state.

Denying transgender students equal access to sports and activities could have legal ramifications for schools, he said. Labecki said some people want to debate what they believe to be the moral implications of such policies.
“We don’t debate that,” he said.

More discussion sought

Ginny Maziarka, of Baraboo, said she attended the Nov. 24 school board meeting because she believed community concerns had been disregarded by board members.
Maziarka said she didn’t learn about the policy until it was going to be up for a final vote. She said she believes that the board should initiate a forum for community dialogue about the policy.
“Most everyone, everyone I talked to about it didn’t know about it,” said the grandmother, whose grandchildren do not live within the school district.
Maziarka said that as a taxpayer, she doesn’t believe the district has developed an adequate plan to implement the proposed policy.
Maziarka said she believes the policy would contribute to a breakdown of “the natural inhibitions of students,” ignore differences between the sexes and compromise student privacy.
She said she’s also concerned about the issue from a facilities standpoint, including the cost of any modifications that might need to be made to locker rooms.
“What has the district determined to be an equitable facility?” Maziarka asked.
Maziarka said she’d like to see Monday’s vote on the proposal tabled until a community forum can be held.
Concerns about facilities
The official second reading of the policy was delayed last month when former school board member Scott Frostman, who spoke during the public comments section of the Nov. 24 meeting, said he didn’t believe the policy had been appropriately read aloud.
Frostman, whose son attends Baraboo High School, and daughter attends a local religious school, said he recently asked board members and district officials for a copy of a written plan for implementing the participation policy but received no materials.
He said he is concerned about how the district will ensure a safe environment for students regarding facilities and provide competitive equity. Frostman said he believes possible “inappropriate environments” could be created by transgender students’ use of locker rooms aligned with their birth sex or with their gender identity.
The issues could be further complicated as teams travel from school to school, Frostman added.
“I think that needs to be specified,” he said of a protocol for facility use.
Frostman said he has concerns about how the policy could affect spring sports.
“I think the district would be premature to adopt the policy at this point without an accompanying plan,” he said, adding that he believes the district also opens itself up to legal concerns should the board adopt the policy without a plan in place.
Policy in practice
Labecki said WIAA’s and similar policies prevent people from presenting themselves as transgender when they do not identify as such, one concern mentioned by critics of Baraboo’s policy. The guidelines establish medical documentation requirements for students to privately certify with the district that they identify as transgender in order to play on the teams with which they identify.
The policy aims to provide competitive equity, ensure equal access to sports, and maintain the privacy of the students, Labecki said.
“I know people have concerns,” he said, adding that he understands that many haven’t been exposed to the issue before.
“I think there are a lot of questions from the community, and legitimate questions in terms of, ‘What would this policy look like in practice?’” said Baraboo’s Director of Special Education and Pupil Services Dani Scott.
The day-to-day implementation of the policy will need to be handled on a case-by-case basis, Scott said, adding that all students have the right to privacy and to feel safe in district facilities, teams and activities.
“We want to provide facilities that respect the rights and privacy of all students,” she said. “And so we would work with the transgender students as well as non-transgender students to make sure they have access to facilities they feel safe and comfortable in.”
There are students in the district who identify as transgender, she said. “This is not an issue that hasn’t touched our community.”
Scott said the district has received messages in support of the policy in addition to comments from those who are opposed.
Some local school staff members recently attended a presentation put on by the district’s Gay/Straight Alliance club to help them better understand some of the issues at hand.
Right to participate
The Rev. Marianne Cotter, pastor of Baraboo’s First United Methodist Church, held an information session on the policy Wednesday night. She plans to speak at Monday’s meeting along with several church members.
Cotter, who joined the Baraboo community this summer, said she’s heard that the school district has done a good job of promoting a climate that addresses bullying and makes sure all students feel safe. The transgender participation policy implements several of the district’s stated core beliefs, she said.
“I believe it’s important to speak up and to be an ally for those who don’t always find it easy or safe to speak up for themselves,” she said.
Involvement in sports is an important part of life for many young people, Cotter said, adding that she believes all students should have access to such opportunities.
“Every person is a child of God and worthy of respect, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity … ” she wrote in the statement she plans to share Monday.
“My church is clear that every person is a person who is of sacred worth,” she said.

October 24, 2011

Milwaukee’s Alliance High School Featured in Time Magazine as Model Program

Filed under: American Injustice,LGBT — millerlf @ 6:17 pm

Time Specials

By Kayla Webley  Oct. 13, 2011

The taunting started four years ago, when Dylan Huegerich was 10. Back then, he didn’t know what being gay meant, and even today the soft-spoken teenager isn’t sure where he fits on the spectrum of sexual orientation. He knows he’s different. He knows that his sense of style — his chin-length hair, his dabbling with makeup — caught the eyes of school bullies in Saukville, Wis. In seventh grade he was pelted with snowballs and shoved into lockers. Everywhere he went on campus, students shouted anti-gay slurs and pointed and stared. “It hurt so bad,” he says. “I hated my life. I hated everything.”

His mother Amy tried to intervene. She says she was told it was her son’s fault for standing out and that he should cut his hair or try to act “more manly,” allegations the principal declined to comment on. Dylan’s mother considered volunteering in his classroom or the cafeteria, but that wouldn’t protect him the rest of the time. Every morning, she says, “I knew I was driving him back to this place where he was hurting. Oh, they beat you up? Here, go there again. My heart broke every time he got out of the car.” When the time came to register Dylan for eighth grade, she decided against re-enrollment. “I felt like if I turned in those forms, I was giving him some kind of a sentence,” she says.

So instead of sending Dylan back to a school that was a 10-minute drive from his house, his mother opted for the publicly funded Alliance School, an hour and a half away in downtown Milwaukee. The only overtly gay-friendly charter school in the U.S. to accept students as early as the sixth grade, Alliance has several boys who, with their painted nails and longer hairstyles, look like Dylan. But more important, it has many students who say they know how Dylan feels. While only about half of Alliance’s 165-member student body identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT), nearly all were bullied or harassed at their previous schools. The hallways are filled with masculine girls, effeminate boys, punks, goths, runts, the overweight and the ultra-nerds. Alliance art teacher Jill Engel affectionately calls the school “the island of misfit toys.”

The Alliance School is a radical solution to a much debated problem. Children have long been taunted with homophobic slurs, but a recent string of high-profile suicides has led school and government officials to pay more attention to this subset of bullying victims. Nine out of 10 LGBT students say they have experienced bullying or harassment, according to a nationwide survey of 7,261 middle and high school students conducted in 2009 by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). Nearly two-thirds of respondents said they have felt unsafe in school; 1 in 5 reported having been physically assaulted.

Parents want to protect their kids, but is wrapping them in an Alliance-style cocoon of tolerance the best solution? Some conservatives oppose the idea of a gay-friendly school on moral grounds, others for fiscal reasons: Why should taxpayers help make sexuality a central part of a child’s or a school’s identity? Developmental experts — and many gay activists — question the wisdom of shielding some students rather than teaching kids coping skills and promoting an atmosphere of respect on all campuses. “Being segregated doesn’t help gay kids learn, it doesn’t help straight kids learn, it doesn’t help bullies learn,” says Ritch Savin-Williams, a professor at Cornell University who chairs the human-development department. “All it does is relieve the school and the teachers of responsibility. It’s a lose-lose situation all around.” And yet to some bullying victims, it’s nothing short of a lifeline.

(more…)

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