Dresden OKs Transgender School Policy Source: Valley News
September 16, 2016

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By Rob Wolfe

Hanover — The Dresden School Board this month adopted a policy that gives transgender students access to bathrooms, sports teams and athletic facilities corresponding to their gender identities, and requires other students and staff to respect their wishes.

Students at Hanover High School developed the measure, which “requires that all programs, activities, and employment practices be free from discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity.”

“The goal is to ensure the safety, comfort, and healthy development of the transgender or gender nonconforming student while maximizing the student’s social integration and minimizing stigmatization of the student,” the policy states.

(Gender nonconforming, as defined in the newly adopted measure, refers to people “whose gender expression differs from stereotypical expectations, such as ‘feminine’ boys, ‘masculine’ girls, and those who are perceived as androgynous.”)

The transgender policy follows guidelines set recently by the New Hampshire School Boards Association, the U.S. Department of Education, and by extension the Obama administration, according to SAU 70 Superintendent Frank Bass.

In a telephone interview Wednesday, Bass said the Hanover High Council, a governing body mostly comprised of students, drafted the measure and shepherded it to adoption.

“It speaks volumes to the quality and foresight of our student body in seeing that there had to be some recognition of those issues,” Bass said in a telephone interview Wednesday.

The School Board ratified the policy in a unanimous vote during a Sept. 1 meeting.

Board members, who had seen the policy before, asked Hanover High Principal Justin Campbell only one question, which was whether the proposal would comply with rules set by the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association.

School Board member Dan Rockmore sought assurance, according to a recording of the meeting, that “if our team shows up somewhere … however our team is comprised, then the other schools will play them, and has to play them.”

Campbell said the transgender policy was in line with NHIAA’s own, recently revised, policies, and said the state athletic organization had a process to establish team rosters that include transgender students.

After the vote, School Board Chairman Neil Odell thanked the student council members for their work, including the student representative to the School Board, junior Jasper Meyer.

“It’ll be a big moment for a lot of people in the (student) body,” Meyer said.

Hanover High graduate Lilly Cadow conceived of the motion after taking a health class her sophomore year and feeling dissatisfied with the amount of information offered on non-heterosexual sex.

Cadow, now a student at the Manhattan School of Music, sought to help educate her peers, and eventually, with the help of a gym teacher and the school’s Rainbow Alliance — a club founded to support LGBT students — put together the policy.

“After all the time I spent writing the motion, researching it, and working with various people on it, and all the time council spent working on it, I am overjoyed that the Dresden School Board has passed protection for students of all genders,” Cadow said in an email on Thursday. “The two most important things to me in this whole process were educating the school community and protecting all students so that nobody faces gender discrimination or feels unsafe because of their identity or expression.”

Henry Lang, council moderator, said the gender policy had been “definitely the biggest motion we talked about last year” in terms of engagement from students.

“I think our whole school learned a lot about acceptance and understanding — that it’s OK to ask questions and not be afraid to mess up because the concept is unfamiliar,” Lang, a senior, said in an interview.

Because the policy was adopted by the Dresden School Board, which oversees both Hanover High and Richmond Middle School, it will apply to both institutions.

Although the Hanover School Board, which covers the Ray School, and the Norwich School Board, which is responsible for Marion Cross, have not yet embraced such a standard, Bass said residents should expect discussions on gender identity to happen there, too.

In addition to establishing transgender and non-conforming students’ rights, the policy requires that other students respect their classmates’ identities, including using the appropriate pronoun.

“The intentional or persistent refusal to respect a student’s gender identity (for example, intentionally referring to the student by a name or pronoun that does not correspond to the student’s gender identity) is a violation of this policy,” the measure states.

Asked whether students found in violation could receive punishment, and if so, what kind, Bass said he wouldn’t use the word “punishment.”

“It’s a means of indicating to folks that there is a proper way to address and respect folks who are in our building, and we take that very seriously,” he said. “And if you continue to disrespect those folks, we would have to respond.”

Campbell, who would have a more direct role in enforcing the policy, wrote in an email, “I expect all students and staff to use appropriate language toward one another. This expectation certainly includes that we all use names and pronouns that fit each other. It would be inappropriate for any member of our community to intentionally and continually use the wrong name or pronoun — were this to occur, my office would intercede firmly and fairly.”

Among other recommendations, the policy also directs teachers to avoid segregating students by gender.

Campbell said schools elsewhere in New Hampshire already have begun to address transgender identity in their policies, but added that he was unaware of any other such policies in the Upper Valley.

Dresden’s decision comes during a nationwide discussion on the rights of transgender students. The debate has ranged from North Carolina, where a new law this spring banned pupils from using bathrooms that don’t match the gender assigned them at birth, to nearby Chester, Vt., where in May counter-protests broke out after the superintendent for Green Mountain Union High School announced a policy opening bathrooms to transgender people.

In May, the Obama administration through the U.S. Department of Education released guidelines similar to what Dresden adopted this month.

They say that schools “must not treat a transgender student differently from the way it treats other students of the same gender identity,” and must give transgender students equal access to programs and facilities.

Since then, at least 20 states have sued to block implementation of the directive, which ties compliance to access to federal funding. Vermont and New Hampshire, however, have voiced support for the Obama administration’s move.

Minutes for the Hanover High Council show that students have been discussing the new set of guidelines since at least February.