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U-46 transgender policy sparks ongoing debate
Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part story on a heavily contested topic within School District U-46.
By Seth Hancock
“Political correctness is America’s newest form of intolerance, and it’s especially pernicious because it comes disguised as tolerance. It presents itself as fairness yet attempts to restrict and control people’s language with strict codes and rigid rules,” comedian George Carlin wrote in his book ‘When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops.’
Is it really discrimination to recognize biological facts, and is the board majority in School District U-46 really anti-discrimination or only when it fits their political agendas?
The transgender bathroom/locker room access issue has led to the board’s majority and administration using and supporting divisive rhetoric against those that disagree with them while also refusing to engage in a debate.
Last fall, U-46 CEO Tony Sanders changed the practice by allowing a middle school student to access facilities based on their gender identity rather than their biological sex. To justify this change, he used a letter from President Barrack Obama, which has since been rescinded, as well as other acts including U-46 Board Policy 7.010 concerning “equal educational and extracurricular opportunities” which was changed a few years ago to include transgender students on the list.
Nowhere in policy 7.010 is access to private facilities, such as bathrooms and locker rooms, mentioned, and every legal act cited by the administration clearly exempts such facilities including the Illinois Human Rights Act and Title IX.
When board member Jeanette Ward attempted to seek a compromise on Monday, Feb. 27, she was accused of discriminating while the board’s majority continued to rely solely on emotional arguments while attempting to control language.
Donna Smith, the board’s president, said “we have a policy against discrimination” which was echoed by the rest of the majority (Traci Ellis, Sue Kerr and Veronica Noland), but they had no answer when the obvious was pointed out.
If a student is uncomfortable with sharing private facilities with someone of the opposite sex, the district will accommodate them by giving them access to a “single-occupancy staff restroom.” Ward is asking that accommodation be the one given to the transgender students, and for that she’s the one discriminating according to the majority.
“If you’re saying that you’re worried about discriminating against the transgender student, are you not saying that you’re not worried about the non-transgender student?” board member Phil Costello asked Smith. He added: “They have to be made reasonable accommodation, and that’s at least what I would be looking at.”
Smith said “no I’m not because” and stopped there.
Ward said: “If you’re going to make the argument that it’s discriminatory, then any person of any sex should be able to access any bathroom at will arguing that ‘well, you can’t discriminate against me.”
No answer was given by the majority.
Ward was later asked by The Examiner if she heard any type of answer to that obvious point, and she said: “No they didn’t. They don’t have an answer for that.”
Ward also said she’s not seeking to change policy 7.010, she’s seeking to change the district’s practices concerning the policy.
The Examiner asked Mary Fergus, director of school and community relations, if a transgender student had ever been denied access to facilities in general, which would be actual discrimination, but she responded that the district works “with families on a case-by-case basis.” It was pointed out to her that was not the question asked, but an answer has not yet been given.
In the upcoming board election, all five candidates have weighed in on the issue. Noland and Smith are both running for reelection, and challenger Melissa Owens made a social media post saying “I am very proud of our district for reaffirming support and inclusion for transgender students.”
Incumbent Cody Holt sides with Ward and said he wants “common sense student privacy guidelines that will protect the rights of all of our students.”
Challenger Enoch Essendrop agrees with Ward and the rest of the minority and told The Examiner their compromise is “very reasonable and it meets the needs of both transgender students and non-transgender students.” He added that the majority claims to be “against discrimination, but they are not.”
That’s been shown since last fall when the change in practice was made. Essendrop got into the board race in part because Noland told the public, a majority of whom voiced opposition to the practice, that the only way the current board will listen to them is to change the board.
When four U-46 students spoke at a meeting, one saying students are allowed to flaunt their sexuality freely in school, to say they were uncomfortable with the change, Noland accused them of sensationalizing and being “inflammatory.”
Ellis has supported using racial discrimination in hiring practices. The definition of discrimination is “the act of making or perceiving a difference,” and later in the Feb. 27 meeting Ellis called it bigoted to not see differences in people based on skin color.
Noland said its offensive to use medically recognized terms, gender dysphoria, and Ward told The Examiner: “Oh, now we have speech codes do we, words we’re not allowed to say?”
That fear of a speech code appears to be true as in the fall Miguel Rodriguez, chief legal officer, responded to a citizens’ concerns that students and staff are “expected to use the appropriate gender pronoun” based on feelings rather than biological fact. The district never answered the actual question from the citizen which was will the district punish a staff member or student for using the actual biological pronoun rather than the preferred one based on identity.
Sanders wrote in a weekly message telling those who opposed his decision that “I plead with those in our community … to monitor their words and mannerisms as they speak or post about this issue, or reference our incredible students.” He apparently didn’t ask the same of supporters, or himself as he used divisive rhetoric by calling opponents fear mongers, who called Ward “a disease” and she “needs to get her head out of her ass” on his own social media page.
Those opposed to the change have been called bigoted and hateful by majority members, and one person called them a “christofascist threat” recently on Noland’s Facebook page, a comment Noland liked. Part of the definition of fascism is the “forcible suppression of opposition.” Readers can decide which side exhibits more of the traits of fascism.
The Examiner asked Noland how she can continue to claim to support all students when she dismisses and demeans those who disagree with her point of view, but she did not respond.