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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
MARION — Policies to protect transgender students from discrimination were hotly debated last week by Linn-Mar school board members, passing a proposal 5-2 in the first consideration.
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.
Policy recommendations require two votes of approval by the school board before being adopted. The board will take a second vote at its meeting at 5 p.m. April 25 in the boardroom of the Learning Resource Center, 2999 N 10th St., Marion.
The proposed policies make official practices already established in the Linn-Mar Community School District to follow federal and state law. The policies were intended to allow all students to advocate for themselves, feel comfortable at school, receive support from staff and work with staff and families to create a plan to help students’ succeed.
The policies spell out inclusive practices for transgender students, including giving students access to restrooms, locker rooms or changing areas that corresponds with their gender identity.
It protects a student’s privacy by keeping their transgender status private at school — if they wish to.
Any student in seventh grade or older will have priority of a gender support plan over their parent or guardian, according to the proposed policies.
Superintendent Shannon Bisgard said adopting the policies will not change any practice the district has been following for more than five years.
“There is federal and state law in this area that already essentially says exactly what the proposed policy is saying,” Bisgard said. “This is something all schools are following whether they have a policy or not.”
During school board public comment last week, Gretchen Lawyer, a member of the Marion Alliance for Racial Equity, spoke in favor of the policies.
“This policy helps ensure the safety of (transgender) students and students who do not conform to stereotypical gender roles,” Lawyer said. “It will enforce the district’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion and is another step toward fostering a greater sense of belonging for all students.”
A petition on change.org to show support for the proposed policies has received 221 signatures with the goal of 500 signatures as of last Thursday morning.
Five parents and community members spoke in opposition to the proposed policies during public comment last week.
School board member Rollinger asked to see “where all of this specifically is laid out in federal or state law.”
“If the policy committee is saying that’s what it is, I’m assuming it was reviewed and verified. It should be easy to provide that information. I don’t think that’s asking too much,” Rollinger said. “Let’s go line by line with some of this stuff that’s obviously controversial with the community.”
“Do we think the verbiage of this policy really takes in to account all students?” Rollinger asked. “We’re only focusing on a small section of the student body when our job is to make sure we’re thinking of the entire student body.”
School board member Walker said adopting the policies provides transparency to the community about what the district is doing.
"What we’ve heard from the community is that we have not been a transparent board, we have not been a transparent district,“ Walker said. ”This is providing transparency district is asking from us. … It is making everyone aware of what’s happening.“
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