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Windham transgender bathroom policy could become issue at deliberative session

Union Leader Correspondent

February 06. 2018 11:30PM

WINDHAM — Controversy has surfaced in Windham ahead of Saturday’s deliberative session as the School Board approved a policy containing language about transgender access to school district restrooms and locker rooms.

The board voted 4-0 to adopt a policy requiring all programs, activities and employment practices of the school district remain free from discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation or gender identity.

The measure allows transgender students — individuals who assert a gender identity different from their sex as determined at birth — to select the health education classes, restrooms and physical education courses and intramural sports consistent with their gender identity.

Locker room accessibility is assessed on a case-by-case basis, according to the policy, adopted during the Jan. 30 board meeting.

“In most cases, transgender students should have access to the locker room that corresponds to their gender identity consistently asserted at school. Any student who has a need or desire for increased privacy, regardless of the underlying reason, should be provided with a reasonable alternative changing area such as the use of a private area …” the policy reads. “In no case shall a transgender student be required to use a locker room that conflicts with the student’s gender identity.”

The same goes for restrooms — students with a desire for increased privacy should have a single-stall restroom, regardless of the underlying reason, according to the policy.

But critics say the change tramples the rights of other students, and is a clear overreach by a public board to compel young adults to conform to a certain ideology.

“I just don’t see a purpose for the policy,” said School Board member Tom Murray on Tuesday. He was not at the Jan. 30 meeting but presented an email to be read before the vote.

New Hampshire already has a bullying statute in place that protects gender identity harassment and anti-discrimination measures, so there is no need to rush into a new policy, he added.

This issue has the potential to come up at the deliberative session, Murray speculated.

“It’s a pretty high-contested issue with a lot of folks,” he said, pointing to a social media post on the topic with nearly 500 comments.

Windham’s deliberative session for the school district will begin at 7 p.m. on Friday at the town high school. The next scheduled board meeting is Feb. 20, three weeks before the town election.

Murray said he was not planning on running for a three-year term again, but filed his petition as a result of this policy and looks to repeal it.

Keleigh McAllister, in her first term on the board and a member of the district’s policy committee, said it is the responsibility of the board to provide support for all students, and this policy suits the needs of Windham.

“The policy committee strives very hard to put forth policy that is relevant to our district and supports our staff and students. As a committee, we agree that a policy was necessary,” she said. “The concern from the administration, students and their families is that (current) practices are no longer adequate.”

A majority of those speakers from the public favored the new language during the board meeting last week.

There are transgender students in the Windham school district, policy supporters said, who are on sports teams, perform in the band and theater and volunteer in social clubs.

Thirty-eight students are currently in the high school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, many of whom traveled to Concord last week for a hearing on transgender civil rights.

The policy was developed in response to a New Hampshire School Boards Association (NHSBA) member inquiry and request. The association developed a sample policy after conducting extensive research of transgender student issues, policies and guidance documents from a variety of nationwide resources.

This particular policy was categorized as “optional,” meaning NHSBA does not specifically advocate or recommend school boards adopt the policy. 

“Rather, NHSBA leaves it up to local school boards to adopt such a policy — or not adopt such a policy, as the local school board sees fit,” said NHSBA Executive Director Barrett M. Christina. “NHSBA keeps on file dozens of ‘optional’ policies on a variety of topics. NHSBA keeps these sample policies on file in order to provide to our members, upon request.”

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