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St. Paul schools proposed gender inclusion policy met with support

Pioneer Press, 1/14/2015 

A proposed policy on gender inclusion for St. Paul Public Schools got its first formal airing Tuesday evening with plenty of support and no opposition.

Seven speakers addressed the school board on the issue at the start of the meeting, and each urged approval.

Holly Montemayor, a 15-year-old transgender student, said she has felt isolated since age 5, when teachers said she was a bad influence and discouraged other students from talking to her. She said a gender inclusion policy would help to hold teachers like that accountable.

"You can help transgender kids have a safer educational environment," she said.

High school nurse Pat McPeak said the policy would encourage students to be kind to each other. The guidance it would provide on restroom use is particularly important, she said.

"It's so hard, as a transgender student, to know what to do," she said.

The Rev. John Hierlinger, a Lutheran pastor with a transgender daughter, agreed that forcing kids to explain their restroom preference is "overwhelming for young kids."

The policy says the district would "provide all students access to facilities that best align with students' gender identity." How exactly schools would provide that access in the case of restrooms, however, is unclear.

But requiring gender-nonconforming students to use a separate restroom is not an option. Ryan Vernosh, the district's policy administrator, noted in his presentation that the Maine Supreme Court found that a school was wrong to tell a transgender girl that she could no longer use the girls restroom and must use a single-stall restroom intended for staff.

Vernosh said the corresponding procedures are still being developed but would be ready in time for the board to vote on approving the policy March 17.

Although no opponents spoke during the meeting, an action alert from the Minnesota Family Council warned that the policy defies common sense and would "create serious violations of all students' basic privacy, safety and dignity rights."

The other three key sections of the policy say that students:

-- Will be addressed by the name and pronoun of their choice.

-- Won't be separated by gender without a compelling instructional reason.

-- Will be allowed to participate in school activities that match their gender identity.

Josh Verges can be reached at 651-228-2171. Follow him at twitter.com/ua14.

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