The Clark County School District Board of Trustees held a public hearing on gender diversity and whether to create a district-wide policy for all students.
The district has been grappling with the issue for years, and each public meeting gets hours of comments from impassioned parents, students and residents with differing opinions.
Thursday’s meeting was no different. The room was packed.
The district has been trying to put together an overarching policy for schools that would address things like names, privacy rights, participation in sports, and yes - bathroom use.
After more than four hours of public comment, the board decided to direct CCSD Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky and his staff to create a draft policy on the subject that will eventually be brought back before the school board for discussion and possible action.
Jane Heenan, the executive director of Gender Justice Nevada, has been working on this issue for six years.
She said Thursday's vote is a great relief but it is only a first step.
"And yet, I'm aware that this step, while it's very important is just one of many more steps that need to come," she said.
Heenan said the school district would not be moving forward on a policy for sex gender diverse students if it hadn't been for the Legislature's passage of a bill that specifically required districts to address the rights and needs of gender diverse students.
Amber Reid is with the state's department of education's office for a safe and respectful learning environment.
Reid said before the law was passed there were two areas of regulations to protect students from bullying. This law created a third area specifically for gender diverse students.
Currently, the department of education is crafting regulations for that third area of coverage.
Some people at Thursday night's meeting did not want CCSD to move forward with its policy before the state was finished. But Reid said there is no reason CCSD can't create its own policy.
One group of people that have been asking for a policy on gender diversity has been school principals.
Jonathan Synold is a principal at Advanced Technology Academy.
He said the policy is vital. He said that he has had several transgender students come out to him. He has then had to craft a policy for that student when it comes to pronoun use, bathroom and locker room use.
He said that other principals he knows have suffered a backlash from the community after doing the same thing for transgender students.
"When a student comes to us and tells us that they are trans then we do have in-house help through the equity and diversity department but nothing that we can hand to the public to say, 'this is why we are making these decisions,'" Synold said.
Reid said that is exactly why the policy needs to be created and instituted to help support principals.
But she also pointed out that the policy is not just for transgender students but for the whole range of students.
"Early on we made a decision that we wanted to use the terminology of sex gender diversity to honor and highlight that there is a broad range of individuals that exist across this and each of those needs is going to be different," she said.
Heenan also said the policy will help gender diverse students feel validated by adults.
"Having a document that they believe provides them with legitimate support allows them to feel legitimate in their lives and makes a huge difference," Heenan said.
Washoe County School District has had a policy and administrative regulations for gender diverse students since 2015.
Gina Session, director of civil rights compliance for WCSD, said the policy and regulations were created because the district felt it fell in line with the state's laws against discrimination.
She said the policy was created first and the regulations, which cover the specifics of the policy, was created later.
One of the concerns expressed by opponents of the new policy was that students would try to take advantage of it but Session said WCSD has not had any instances of students abusing the policy.
"We don't have an issue of people masquerading as transgender in order to gain access to locker rooms or bathrooms that is just not something that happens," Session said.
She said part of the school district's mission is to educate parents that their fears surrounding gender diverse students are unfounded.
All the people on the panel agreed that it is usually not the students who are fearful, but adults who usually have an issue.
"This is typically an adult issue," Synold said, "The kids are not really bothered by this because they know these students."
Heenan said Nevada has been a leader when it comes to protecting gender diverse people and she hopes the crafting of the policy will allow the state to continue in that leadership role.
"We need to do this in a way that allows us to learn how to talk to each other across those boundaries and barriers of fear," she said, "And we need to recognize, in my opinion, that this is not about a distinct group of people. It's not about drawing a circle around transgender people."
She said it is really a change in consciousness to accept the idea that sex gender diversity exists in everyone.
Amber Reid, Education program profession, office for a safe and respectful learning environment, Nevada Department of Education; Jane Heenan, executive director, Gender Justice Nevada; Jonathan Synold, principal, A-tech
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