The White Mountains Regional School District has extended the public comment for its transgender student policy.
Superintendent Marion Anastasia announced last week that the public comment period will run through the next School Board meeting on Aug. 12.
Barring setbacks, the School Board will vote whether to approve the policy at the following meeting on Aug. 26.
The policy was drafted by the New Hampshire school Board Association in 2015 and has already been adopted, fully or in part, but roughly one-third of New Hampshire public school districts.
That includes five districts in southern Coos County: Milan, Northumberland, Stark, Stratford, and the Gorham Randolph Shelburne Cooperative.
As written, the three-page policy would require staff to use a student’s preferred name and pronouns, and allow transgender students to use the bathroom or participate in the interscholastic sports team of their gender identity.
Transgender locker rooms would be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
For more information on the policy and its purpose, visit www.sau36.org/article/494260.
The school board heard conflicting opinions on the policy at their June 24 meeting.
James Akerman of Jefferson spoke in opposition to the policy, claiming provisions on bathroom and locker room access posed a threat to the safety and privacy of female students, including his two daughters.
“My daughters should be able to use the changing room or the bathroom without any boy, claiming he’s a girl, watching them,” he said.
Alison Breault of Lancaster responded that the policy would simply protect the rights and dignity of transgender students, including her son.
“I don’t understand why this has to turn into something sexual, something deviant,” she said. “It breaks my heart.”
School Board members said that existing policies did not adequately address transgender students and that a more specific policy was needed.
“We have transgender students in our buildings now and we have not had a coherent policy. It’s been a lot of ad hoc stuff,” said school board member Herb Randall of Lancaster. “We’re doing the best we can but [the proposed policy] would be an improvement.”
Chairman Greg Odell of Dalton said the proposed transgender policy was vetted by state and federal attorneys and conforms to U.S. Department of Education and New Hampshire Department of Education recommendations.
Working within that structure, Odell said, the school board’s mission was to “design policies that allow everyone to get a fair and equal education.”
School Board member Kristen van Bergen-Buteau of Lancaster noted the policy covered all areas of school operations and was not focused solely on hot-button issues. It provides protections for LGBTQ+ youth, a vulnerable population that faces an elevated risk for depression, anxiety and suicide, she said.
“It’s really important for folks to understand that this policy is about a lot more than bathrooms and locker rooms. There are 10 specific areas of guidance written into this policy that address how to help children with gender dysphoria navigate their school lives such that they are not overwhelmed by worries about safety, and instead can focus on their academics and their social activities,” she said. “Without a policy we kind of hope that it goes OK. The policy provides us with some guideposts, some guardrails, about how to ensure that it goes OK.”