Wentworth School. Catherine Bart

The Scarborough School Board held a second reading of a policy and support plan for transgender and gender expansive students on April 27. The board approved the policy with one abstention from member Carolyn Gammon.

The policy, which is available for reading on the Scarborough Public Schools website, intends to facilitate a safe learning environment for transgender and gender expansive students and assist educational and social integration.

Members of the community spoke up at the meeting, including Michelle, a teacher and community member. She indicated the views were her own and not representative of the school district.

“I have heard people say things like, ‘I respect you and I love you, but I will not protect you.’ This is fundamentally flawed. James Baldwin, one of the great American thinkers, said ‘We can disagree, and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.’ As a teacher, how can I say I love and respect my students if I don’t champion their human rights? As a parent, how can I say I love and respect my children if I don’t honor their voices? As a human, how can I say I love and respect my community if I deny their right to exist?

“I am grateful every day for the educators each of my children has had in the Scarborough school system. Daily, they support, nourish, and lift up my children. Each of my children had a supportive and caring teacher with whom to navigate the waters of sharing their identity on their terms. In fact, each of their teachers at the time of their sharing their identities, fifth grade, fifth grade, and second grade, respectively, were their biggest cheerleaders and loving spaces. Not only were their teachers their supports, but their principals were as well. That is how we support kids. School board, we need to be their shields. We must protect their personal autonomy. We must protect their voices. We must protect their right to choose when and with whom they share who they are. Parents, we need to protect their rights. Our children’s bodies and spirits are theirs and theirs alone. We need to be their number one accomplice and safe haven.”

Students spoke up as well, including Mike, a sophomore at the high school. “As a non-binary student, I support the proposed student policy because it is necessary for the safety of transgender students throughout Scarborough High School,” Mike said. “I have friends whose families wouldn’t be supportive of their identities as a trans student and they deserve to have a place where they can safely be who they are without worrying about being outed to their parents or being kicked out. If a trans kid hasn’t come out to their parents, it’s not because the teachers are hiding it from them, it’s because they don’t feel comfortable with talking to their parents, and that isn’t a teacher’s fault. All transgender students deserve just as much respect as any cis gender student and I believe that this policy is a move in the right direction.”

Clarity in the document was a focus for the policy.

Vice chair of the board Frayla Tarpinian, said, “This policy is really intended for a very discreet moment at school — where somebody at school — a student, a parent, a teacher, another staff member — identifies that there is an issue going on, that could be bullying, that could be harassment,  it could be a mental health issue being suffered by a student based on their internal thought process and worries that they have. It could be something that comes up in the classroom. But if there’s an issue it needs to be addressed by the school. So this is the school’s process to address those issues … The document is really clear and I think clarity is the best protection we can give students, so that everyone knows what to expect.”

The policy as discussed is available in the documents for the April 27 meeting at www.scarboroughschools.org/board/meetings.

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