Candia board OK's transgender student policy despite opposition
CANDIA — The Candia School Board voted 4-1 to adopt a policy aimed at protecting transgender students from discrimination despite strong opposition from parents and other residents at a meeting Thursday night.
Nearly 100 people turned out for the meeting at Henry W. Moore School to speak on the new policy that addresses the needs of transgender students and those described as “gender nonconforming.”
The most controversial section of the policy is one that allows transgender and gender-nonconforming students access to a restroom that corresponds to their gender identity, meaning that a boy who consistently identifies as a girl could use the girl’s restroom and vice versa.
The policy, which was recently tabled by both the Auburn and Hooksett school boards, also states that any student who wants increased privacy should be provided access to a single-stall restroom.
The discussion lasted nearly 2-1/2 hours and included emotional public comment from people for and against the policy.
The majority of those in the audience voiced opposition, with many arguing that the policy failed to address the needs of all students — not just those with gender issues — and that the board should review it further or consider an alternative.
Board member Matthew Woodrow cast the dissenting vote, saying the policy is optional and that there were more issues the board needed to address before adopting it.
“You should be ashamed of yourselves,” one member of the audience shouted after the board approved the policy.
Parent Mike Syvertson presented a petition that he said was signed by nearly 300 people opposed to the policy as it was written.
“This policy protects the few and leaves out protection for the majority,” he said, adding that he’s worried about boys “manipulating” the policy to gain access to the girl’s restroom.
Upset by the strong opposition from most in the crowd, one mother said she felt her 8-year-old child “had more compassion than the people in this room.”
School board member Becky Cronk said she’s heard more positive comments about the policy in the community than negative ones.
“I really think that we are making a bigger issue than it really is,” she said.
A draft of the policy can be viewed below:
School attorney Gordon Graham was also on hand to address several legal questions regarding the policy, which was drafted by the New Hampshire School Boards Association with legal advice but not required for boards to adopt.
While the policy isn’t mandated under state law, Graham encouraged the board to adopt it in an effort to be proactive before an issue involving a transgender student arises. He stressed that the school can’t discriminate based on a student’s sex and gender identity.
Some residents felt there was no reason to be discussing the issue in a public forum now since the school has no students with gender identity issues.
“We’re going to open up a can of worms that doesn’t need to be,” resident Felix Shepard said.
Dana Buckley, who has a child entering kindergarten, urged the board to work with parents to develop a different policy that’s more inclusive of all students.
“Many in town have correctly pointed out that this policy completely ignores the privacy and safety concerns and rights of the majority of children in this community in order to address the needs of a very small group. If passed as written, this policy will most certainly result in a number of unintended consequences that will adversely affect transgender and non-transgender students alike, as well as the school board and school administration,” he said.
School Board Chairman Nicole LaFlamme angered some audience members when she said she felt they were saying they didn’t want transgender kids in the school.
Several opponents insisted they were accepting of all students, but were concerned about the policy as it was written.
Board Vice Chairman Karyn Yeatman asked what would happen if the board tabled a vote on the policy and a transgender student arrived at the school tomorrow.
Graham, the school’s attorney, said the school would still have to support that student and allow the use of a bathroom that corresponds with the student’s gender identity.