BOE votes to pass proposed transgender policy at first hearing
Secondary hearing for a final vote to take place next week
Pascack Valley’s new proposed transgender policy passed by a 7-1 vote with one abstention at Monday’s Board of Education meeting. Though Mr. Joe Blundo voted his dissent and Mr. Alfred J. Murphy Jr. abstained from his vote, the other seven Board members voted in favor of the policy.
At a second hearing in the Pascack Valley auditorium this Monday at 7:30 p.m., the Board of Education will vote again on whether or not to pass the policy. If passed, the policy would go into effect immediately.
“I think this is a good example of this district really making sure that we are being considerate of the rights and the needs of all our students,” said Mr. Erik Gundersen, Superintendent of the Pascack Valley Regional High School District.
If the policy is defeated, the Board will then decide whether to have the policy makers make changes or to abandon the policy entirely. According to Gundersen, policy makers could rework the policy and present it to the Board again in this situation.
“I believe this is — if not the most important issue — certainly one of the most important issues that this board has heard,” Mr. Jeffrey Steinfeld, the president of the Board of Education, said.
The policy was voted to be passed despite the threat of a lawsuit made in the past week by a Christian conservative group based in Orlando, Florida called Liberty Counsel, which sent two letters to the district’s Board of Education about the violation of “privacy, modesty, or religious liberty.” The group threatened to take “further action on their behalf to prevent irreparable harm to cherished liberties” if the policy gets passed.
Carolee Adams, a Montvale resident who took issue with the policy’s lack of concern for parental rights, first contacted Liberty Counsel about this issue. They issued the first letter on March 21, stating that the laws the policy were based on were not valid and that a student should not “be officially affirmed in his or her confusion” about their gender.
“The policy is conflicting at best,” Adams said. “At worst it’s assuming that a student has a greater right than the parents. This policy purposefully ignores privacy.”
Adams was one of about 60 people, both students and people from the community, who were present at yesterday’s Board meeting. People from the community spoke out both for and against this policy.
“The district is acknowledging that students can be well aware of who they are, even before they enter high school age and that is not necessarily going to align with what the parents want,” said Hannah Simpson, a transgender woman and Pascack Valley alumna from the class of 2003. “There are parents who will not be supportive and understanding.”
Representatives from groups such as Garden State Equality and the Anti-Defamation League were present at the meeting, showing their support for the Pascack Valley district in proposing this policy.
“I want to ask people to think about what they’re really afraid of,” said Aaron Potenza, a representative from Garden State Equality and a transgender man. “These have been state laws for a long time and we haven’t had any reported instances of misuse of these policies.”
“I support the policy. Affirming someone’s gender identity is a powerful way of letting students be students,” said Marc Stutzel, a pastor of Christ Lutheran in Woodcliff Lake. Stutzel belongs to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, a denomination that supports LGBT rights.
Several parents spoke out against the policy, saying that the policy seemed to “say that biology is, at best, irrelevant or, at worst, wrong” and that the policy seemed to “disregard the rights of students.” Parents also said that some students “cannot handle” sharing facilities with transgender students.
“I would hate to see there be instances where gender conforming students feel discriminated against because they can’t come out and say they feel uncomfortable,” said Kim Barron, a resident of Mahwah, where the school district there has already passed a similar policy. “I don’t think that any student should feel like they don’t have rights. There are privacy issues.”
“It’s important to note that a transgender person is far more likely to be attacked [in bathrooms or locker rooms],” said Bo Petkovich, father to a transgender student in the Pascack Valley school system.
Seniors Laura Friel and Jasmine Abraham spoke representing Pascack Valley’s Human Rights League in their support of this policy, saying that transgender people are “humans who deserve the same rights and protection as the rest of us.”
The president of the student body at Pascack Hills, Jonathan Levin, also spoke at the meeting and advocated for the policy. He said that “it would be foolish to vote against it.”
“I think everyone deserves to change where they’d like,” said Chloe Witt, a junior and the Pascack Valley student representative at Board of Education meetings. “There are ways to avoid the comfort issue and they’re written in the policy. I think that people are just choosing not to listen.”