116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
MARION — After being invited to a private meeting last week in Marion with Gov. Kim Reynolds and U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson, Linn-Mar school board member Matt Rollinger did not alert the rest of the school board and said he did not go as a school board representative.
About 40 people spoke who were concerned about new policies that spell out inclusive practices for transgender students recently passed by the Linn-Mar school board, Rollinger said. The event was not open to the media, and the governor's spokesman said the meeting was private.
The discussion was similar to an April 25 school board meeting that elicited four hours of public comment, with the majority of the 76 speakers opposing the policies, Rollinger said. Some speakers who oppose the policies called them “woke,” cited the exclusion of parents or guardians and said they were unChristian.
The policies were passed by the Linn-Mar school board last month by 5-2 vote in the first and second considerations. School board members President Brittania Morey, vice president Clark Weaver, Sondra Nelson, Melissa Walker and Rachel Wall approved the policy. Members Matt Rollinger — who is new to the board this year — and Barry Buchholz opposed it.
The policies align with the Iowa Department of Education’s guidance on equality for transgender students.
In a Linn-Mar school board meeting Monday, members of the board questioned how Rollinger was aware of the meeting and why he did not share that information with the rest of the board.
Rollinger said he was invited via an email to his personal account, not his school board account. Shortly after, the invitation began making the rounds on social media and more people began to respond that they were attending.
The meeting was advertised as a “meeting about the Linn-Mar school district,” Rollinger said. “The invitation clearly was for feedback from parents,” he said.
A member of Reynolds’ staff said while the event was initially supposed to be small, there was such a large interest in the meeting they decided to allow anyone who RSVP’d to attend, Rollinger said. more than 100 people showed up.
Rollinger said he did speak at the meeting other than to thank the two elected officials for coming. “I very specifically said I am here speaking on my own behalf,” Rollinger said.
While Rollinger said he was not there as a representative of the school board, later he said he went to “hear his constituents’ concerns.”
School board member Barry Buchholz said he supports Reynolds and Hinson, “but I can honestly say I was a little disappointed to see a private meeting held by invite only.”
"No matter what I do on the street, no matter who I see, I am a Linn-Mar school board member and I’m proud of that,“ Buchholz said.
Morey said she was not invited to the meeting and was not aware of it until after the fact.
“If you got an email inviting you to a meeting that specifically said it was in regard to the district and didn’t tell any of us, that’s the part that gets sketchy for me,” Morey said. “We're supposed to share information concerning the district. It’s in our guidelines; it’s in our ethics."
"That’s a responsibility you have as a board member to inform at a minimum myself and (Superintendent Shannon Bisgard),“ Morey said. ”When the governor goes somewhere, people notice, and if it’s about our district people are going to start asking questions. We should have been informed.“
School board member Rachel Wall said by attending the meeting and not alerting other board members, Rollinger comes across as “underhanded” and undermined the institution of the school board.
“It seems like that meeting was really redundant and really meant to create an echo chamber because it was only one side of comments,” Wall said. “Whether you meant for it or not, it does send a message about who you're really listening to and I think it was really unfortunate and I think you knew better.”
As of Monday, information on the Iowa Department of Education website for equity for transgender students was replaced with the following message: The content of this web page is currently being reviewed for continued legal accuracy, in light of recent court decisions.
According to the state Department of Education’s policy and guidance on equality for transgender students, provided to The Gazette last week by the Cedar Rapids Community School District:
- Students have a right to keep their transgender status private at school, and the district should keep this information confidential. It is not the school’s information to share, even if the student has disclosed it to other staff or students.
- The preference for the use of pronouns is the choice of the student, and a legal name change is not required for a student to use a new name for class lists, student activities or yearbook publications.
- All students have access to locker rooms, bathrooms and shower facilities they identify with, and students cannot be forced to use a restroom for which they do not identify.
- School district’s anti-discrimination policies must include gender identity discrimination, and staff is trained about gender identity issues in anti-discrimination, bullying and harassment training.
The Cedar Rapids Community School District aligns with the Iowa Department of Education guidance for equality for transgender students.
The Iowa Department of Education did not respond to The Gazette’s questions about what recent court decisions were being referred to.
“The department has a responsibility to issue guidance that is consistent with all statutes, rules, and other legal authorities,” Iowa Department of Education spokeswoman Heather Doe said in an email to The Gazette. “Several months ago, the Department removed the guidance from the website for review since it was last updated in 2017. To ensure the Department provides the most up-to-date information on the issue, the guidance was removed pending a thorough review of all relevant legal authorities.”
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