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St. Paul schools crafting policy recognizing all genders

Star Tribune

A month after the end of an emotional state-level debate, the St. Paul school district has laid out plans for a new policy promoting a safe and respectful environment for transgender students.

First of the four main tenets is a call for students to be identified by their preferred names and pronouns.

“My name is part of my identity,” a high school junior was quoted by a district official as saying. “If you cannot call me by my name, you cannot see me. I refuse to be invisible.”

School board members are working with students, parents, staff members and others to fine-tune the “gender inclusion” policy and specify how its requirements will be put into practice. The availability of restroom facilities, for example, is a major issue for transgender youth.

Ryan Vernosh, the district’s strategic planning and policy administrator, outlined the proposal to a receptive school board Tuesday night. Policy elements echo goals set elsewhere, officials say. But the district aims to craft the most comprehensive policy yet seen for a state public schools system.

“We will work hard because our kids deserve it,” Superintendent Valeria Silva said.

Introduction of the policy comes at a time of heightened attention to issues surrounding transgender and gender-nonconforming students and their desire to feel comfortable and safe in school.

In December, the Minnesota State High School League adopted a policy allowing transgender students to play on sports teams that best match their gender identity. In addition, Avalon, a charter school in St. Paul, and the Blake School have opened or are opening gender-neutral bathrooms for students.

The St. Paul school district has no estimates on the number of transgender students in its schools, but the students are present in programs from preschool to high school, a district administrator said. The Transgender Law Center in California has estimated that 0.3 percent of the population is transgender.

The state high school league’s vote came after a lengthy debate with public testimony reflecting high emotion on both sides. St. Paul’s intent to craft a plan is clear, but the potential for tension was evident in Tuesday’s board meeting.

When Board Member John Brodrick said that he hoped that the “love and respect” being shown for students would be extended, too, to people who may disagree with the district’s approach on the issue, Board Chairwoman Mary Doran countered that she had found some comments made during the state high school league debate to be on the level of “fear-mongering and misinformation.”

“I don’t have time for that,” Doran said. She hopes, instead, for a “respectful, constructive dialogue” geared to making the policy work, she said.

The policy tenets call for:

• Honoring the right of students to be identified and addressed by their preferred name and pronoun.

• Barring within academic programming the separation of students by gender unless it serves as a compelling teaching tool.

• Allowing all students to participate in co-curricular and extracurricular activities in a manner consistent with their gender identity.

• Providing all students with access to facilities best aligned with their gender identity.

The policy is expected to receive its first formal reading next week. Work on a final version with accompanying procedures is expected to take two to three months.

Anthony Lonetree


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