Transgender students will be explicitly protected in Flagler Schools' nondiscrimination policy: The School Board at a Dec. 15 meeting voted 3-2, with board members Janet McDonald and Jill Woolbright dissenting, to add the words "gender identity" to the policy's existing list of protected characteristics.
Board Chairman Trevor Tucker, who at a recent workshop had expressed concern that adding "gender identity" could be a slippery slope to adding multiple identities and making the policy excessively long, had by the Dec. 15 meeting changed his mind, voting along with board members Colleen Conklin and Cheryl Massaro in favor of adding "gender identity" to the policy as a parenthetical after the word "sex."
Rather than stating that discrimination may not take place on the basis of "... color, religion, gender" and other categories, the new language of the policy will state that discrimination may not take place on the basis of "... color, religion, sex (sexual orientation, gender identity)" and the other categories. (Sexual orientation had already been listed elsewhere in the policy.)
The decision followed a year-long campaign by transgender students and supporters that began when Randy Bertrand, the parent of a local transgender high school student, pushed the district to add gender identity to the policy.
The board's vote followed appeals by members of the public, including the Bertrand family, and by Conklin and Massaro in favor of adding the language.
Student School Board member Kyleigh Ruddy also presented an internet petition she'd organized that had garnered 418 signatures in favor of adding gender identity. No members of the public at the Dec. 15 meeting spoke against adding gender identity to the policy.
The dissenters on the board, Woolbright and McDonald, said they wanted students to be protected, but felt that could be accomplished with procedures rather than policy.
Conklin said that policy drives procedures.
"What happens when we have an employee who refuses to follow procedure, and ... that employee could be disciplined or, possibly, worse case scenario, terminated. ... Is it a rightful termination if it’s not in policy? The policy protects the procedure, and if we don’t have gender identity in the policy, then the procedure is weak, no matter what the procedure is."
She added, "We have listened to I-don’t-know-how-many students who have come before us and shared that they don’t feel protected. That they are not included in this policy. ... This should be about protecting our students. ... If we’re simply going on nothing else but to say, 'It’s in the procedure,' I would challenge you to think very, very, very carefully about when that procedure is broken — and there is no policy to back it up — what kind of position have you put us in."
Massaro noted that the proposed policy change seemed controversial only to adults — not to students. Not a single student, she noted, had spoken against it, while many had spoken in favor.
"We have a group of students that has requested us, as School Board members, to help them. I believe it’s our duty to do that," she said. "If it helps one student, it’s a valuable move. ... I’m hoping, by doing that, we’re going to relieve a lot of pressure from a group of our students."
After the vote, Woolbright praised the Bertrands for speaking for their position without being insulting or accusatory.
"You pushed me," she said. "I'll tell you what: If people could converse with opposing thoughts the way the Bertrands can converse, this country would be such a better place."
The existing list of covered identity categories to which gender identity will be added includes “race, color, religion, gender, age, marital status, sexual orientation, pregnancy, disability, political or religious beliefs, national or ethnic origin, or genetic information.”
The board also approved a federally-mandated change to the policy that specifies though a parenthetical that anti-Semitism is prohibited under the policy's prohibition on discrimination based on race.