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Official says proposed trans student policy change could promote harassment

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A former educator launched a petition drive in opposition to a section of the Maine School Administrative District 75 policy that requires students, faculty and staff to refer to trans students by their preferred name and pronouns. The district covers Harpswell, Topsham, Bowdoin and Bowdoinham.

The petition was created by Rebecca Brooks, a former substitute teacher and paraprofessional with MSAD 75 who resigned in November after the school board approved the anti-discrimination policy, which took effect Feb. 2.

At a meeting of the district’s Board of Directors on Thursday, March 28, board Chair Hutson Hayward, of Bowdoinham, said he sought legal advice regarding the petition from the district’s attorneys and was advised not to make the requested change.

“Based on consultation with the district’s legal counsel, intentionally using incorrect pronouns or names of students or staff could be considered illegal harassment and/or discrimination based on their gender identity,” and thus would fall under conduct prohibited by the district as well as state and federal laws, Hayward said.

“The district’s policy on this issue is also consistent with the positions of the Maine Department of Education, Maine Human Rights Commission, and model policies of the Maine School Management Association,” he added.

Brooks, of Topsham, collected signatures on March 5 at Mt. Ararat High School in Topsham, which served as a polling place that day for the Democratic and Republican presidential primaries.

The petition zeroes in on a provision of the district policy that requires students, faculty and staff to refer to transgender and gender-expansive students by their preferred pronouns.

“(The policy) is a direct affront to students’ (First) Amendment rights,” the petition states. “With this policy, every student from elementary to high school is required to conform to an individual’s preferred pronoun ideology. If you and your child want to protect the (First) Amendment and their freedom of speech, please sign this petition below.”

It’s unclear how many signatures Brooks collected. She has declined interviews, but her Nov. 17 resignation letter, obtained from the school district, cites her ideological opposition to the anti-discrimination policy.

In it, Brooks says the district’s decision to accommodate transgender students “is crossing a dangerous boundary” and creating a hostile environment for those who disagree with “allowing this age-inappropriate topic into our schools.”

The district policy’s stated purpose is to guide faculty and staff in their efforts to “foster a learning environment that is safe and free from discrimination, harassment and bullying,” and “assist in the educational and social integration of transgender and gender-expansive students” in local schools.

It defines relevant terms and provides a framework for how to accommodate students who assert a different gender identity from the one they were assigned at birth. For example, the policy advises school personnel on meeting with such students and, if necessary, developing plans that meet their particular circumstances and needs.

It says school personnel should address trans students by their preferred name and pronouns, and allow them to use the bathrooms, locker rooms and other facilities that most closely align with their gender identity.

Its passage came after much heated debate and several amendments, particularly around students’ privacy rights and parents’ right to be informed. Throughout its development, the draft policy alternated between versions emphasizing different priorities. The final version seeks to balance the two competing concerns.

Much of the policy’s language, including the provision about using preferred pronouns, was designed to comply with state courts’ interpretation of the Maine Civil Rights Act. Maine courts have ruled that transgender people are a protected class under the state law.

While being transgender was regarded as a psychological disorder as recently as 10 years ago, it is now widely viewed by medical professionals as a natural variation of human diversity, according to the American Psychiatric Association.

According to the American Medical Association, a landmark 2018 study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that transgender youth who were allowed to use accurate names and pronouns experienced 71% fewer symptoms of severe depression, a 34% drop in reported suicidal thoughts and a 65% decrease in suicide attempts.

Have a comment or news tip? Email J. Craig Anderson at

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