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The Examiner U-46 News Feed

Compromise sought in U-46 controversy

By Seth Hancock
  School District U-46 board member Jeanette Ward is seeking a compromise on the transgender bathroom/locker room practice, which last fall U-46 made the decision without any public input to allow a middle school student to access the facilities of their choice based on their gender identity, after President Donald Trump reversed the guidelines from the “Dear Colleague” letter from former President Barrack Obama.
  Obama’s letter sought to dictate from Washington, D.C. how local school districts treat access to facilities while Trump’s affirms local control, and Ward raised the issue at the board meeting on Monday, Feb. 27.
  Ward said that “U-46 partially relied” on the Obama letter as well as Title IX, which she noted clearly exempts private facilities, for justification for the change.
  However, the majority on the board continued to ignore those that disagree with them while making arguments rather than actually debating the issue as they claimed moral superiority to justify their stance.
  “What is ironic in this controversy is that Mr. (U-46 CEO Tony) Sanders said if students were not comfortable sharing restrooms or locker rooms with opposite sex students, the school would allow them to use single-occupancy staff restrooms, but only after they express their concerns to the principal,” Ward said. “So, if a gender-dysphoric boy is not comfortable sharing private spaces with peers of his same sex, he may access opposite sex facilities, but if girls are not comfortable sharing private spaces with a boy, they must use single-occupancy staff restrooms.”
  Ward added: “Why should a gender-dysphoric boy, for example, be allowed to use restrooms and locker rooms only with persons who share his ‘gender identity,’ while the rest of students are not allowed to use restrooms and locker rooms only with persons who share their sex?”
  Ward’s compromise is to allow transgender students access to “private, single-occupancy staff bathrooms with fully locking doors.”
  “Policies and practices that allow gender-dysphoric students to access the private spaces of opposite-sex students teach all students the lie that objective, immutable sex has no intrinsic meaning, particularly with regard to modesty and privacy,” Ward said. “And such policies and practices teach all students the lie that inclusivity and compassion require them to relinquish their privacy.”
  Instead of trying to work with Ward, board member Veronica Noland rejected her outright and tried to control language, even after she’s accused Ward of censorship for wanting unbiased resources.
  “I object to the term gender-dysphoric,” Noland said. “It is an antiquated term just as lesbians and bisexuals were called a disorder in the past.”
  That “antiquated” term has only been used since 2013 when the American Psychiatric Association changed the term Gender Identity Disorder to Gender Dysphoria.
  Noland added: “We need to stop this type of discrimination that my colleague is trying to perpetuate …. I will reject the notion that we need to address some critical issue because there isn’t one.”
  Also claimed by Noland was that the change in practice, which she somehow claimed was not even a change, “had nothing to do” with the Obama letter. Sanders in fact clearly did use the Obama letter to justify the change in a weekly message while also using the Illinois Human Rights Act, which like Title IX, clearly exempts private facilities in Section 5-103.
  “That was a change in practice,” Ward later said. “That was new and different for that time, and I’m not suggesting that we be insensitive to the needs of all students. I said that private restrooms with locking doors would be an acceptable compromise, and I don’t see why that’s not acceptable.”
  Board member Cody Holt agreed with Ward and said the Obama letter was not guidelines but “a threat to pull federal funding from our school district that would have taken resources out of the classroom from our students.”
  “It was also an encroachment from our federal government into local affairs in our local school district, and we are no longer under that threat,” Holt said. “I am happy that our presidential administration has rescinded the guidelines, which I believe were unconstitutional, and infringed on local control.”
  Ward also called the Obama letter unconstitutional, but board member Traci Ellis doesn’t believe Americans have the right to interpret law saying “nobody in this room is qualified to declare anything unconstitutional.” Ellis said the Supreme Court has not ruled on the issue, however, in the fall the majority and the administration inferred that established law required the change.
  “We hashed it out last fall over several sessions with lots of people who don’t even have a vested interest in this district,” Ellis said and Donna Smith, the board’s president, said “we had these discussions last fall.”
  The majority did not debate the issue last fall but rather ignored the concerns raised in three straight meetings where the vast majority of the public came out in opposition to the change and simply backed the administration as well as belittled those in opposition. The majority who opposed it were district residents.
  Board member Phil Costello, who sided with Ward in wanting to seek a compromise, noted “we went with the flow” rather than actually discussed the practice. He added that the board should hear “the merits of the people out there who are for and against,” and they “would hopefully be objective and to the point.”
  The majority also changed public comments at meetings to relegate them to the end if a certain number sign up to comment, and when asked by Holt at the time why the change was being made Smith said “I don’t know.”
  Board member Sue Kerr said she’s not heard any concerns about any incidents occurring from the change, but in the fall four U-46 students came to a meeting saying they were uncomfortable with the change. Sanders said: “We certainly have had feedback on both sides.”
  Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part story on a heavily contested topic within School District U-46.

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