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Candia board to seek legal advice after emotional debate on transgender policy

Union Leader Correspondent

April 07. 2016 11:39PM
Lisa McKenna speaks out on a proposed transgender policy at a Candia School Board meeting Thursday night. (JASON SCHREIBER)

CANDIA — The school board agreed to seek legal advice before adopting a proposed policy that would accommodate transgender students after an emotionally charged debate Thursday night that nearly prompted a call to police.

Nearly 40 people packed a board meeting at the Henry W. Moore School to weigh in on the policy to protect the rights of transgender students and others with gender identity differences.

While some board members supported the policy and appeared ready to adopt it after the debate, others felt it needed more review and input from the community.

Board member Matthew Woodrow insisted there was no need to rush the policy and feared it would only “backfire” if the board didn’t gather more public input and legal advice.

He and other board members also urged the community to be respectful in the wake of some comments they saw on social media and literature left on some people’s doorsteps that board Chairwoman Nicole LaFlamme called “disgusting.”

“I think we are better than what we saw in this community in the last week,” said LaFlamme, who threatened to call police at one point when a woman in the audience shouted about how she felt the public wasn’t properly informed about Thursday’s meeting.

The policy is the same one considered earlier this week by the Hooksett School Board, which held a brief discussion and could adopt it at the next meeting.

The policy was recommended by the New Hampshire School Boards Association.

It defines “transgender” as someone whose gender identity is different from their gender assigned at birth and “gender non-conforming” students as those whose gender expression differs from stereotypical expectations, such as “feminine” boys, “masculine” girls, and those who are perceived as androgynous.

The policy section addressing access to restrooms drew the most attention. The policy states that students must have access to a restroom that corresponds to their gender identity.

“Any student who has a need or desire for increased privacy, regardless of the underlying reason, should be provided access to a single stall restroom, but no student shall be required to use such restroom,” the policy states.

The policy allows schools to address locker room use on a case by case basis. While transgender students should have access to the locker room that corresponds to their gender identity, the policy states that any students who prefer increased privacy should be given an alternative changing area.

One mother said she didn’t feel comfortable with her daughter using the same restroom as a boy who identifies as a girl.

Resident Kerry LaFlamme encouraged anyone reluctant to support the policy to research transgender and other gender identity issues.

“They’re not evil. They’re not men dressed up as drag,” she said, adding, “Open your heart and your minds.”

Sharon DeWitt also spoke in favor, saying she felt a lot of the concerns stemmed from fear. She encouraged parents to talk to their children about transgender issues to help them understand.

“Things are changing and I think we need to fully embrace that,” she said.

But several parents expressed concerns about the policy because they felt it should do more to meet the privacy needs of all students.

Some shared stories of how their children have been bullied and argued the school should work to improve bullying policies.

Mother Lisa McKenna said the policy isn’t mandated and that the school wouldn’t lose federal funding if it didn’t adopt it.

She urged the board to gather community input and revise the policy by making it a privacy policy that not only addresses the needs of transgender and “gender non-conforming students,” but also allows for specific protections for all groups of students, including those with weight and anxiety issues, physical limitations, religious constraints, or a history of sexual or other abuse.

Board member Becky Cronk acknowledged the sensitive nature of the issue.

“I’m very torn by this policy because I know it’s not going to make everybody happy in the end,” she said.

Education Social issues Candia Local and County Government

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