Allowing transgender student access ‘the right decision,’ says U46 CEO
District U46 used two overflow rooms and broadcast the school board meeting to the crowd on hand Monday in Elgin during a discussion of the recent actions of the board to allow locker room access to a transgender student.
The matter began last week when board member Jeanette Ward took to Facebook to voice her concern over the decision to allow the access without seeking community input. "(The district) has opted not to inform parents or the community at large of this change," the post stated. "I am informing you."
U46 Chief Executive Officer Tony Sanders followed with a Facebook post, "Did we notify families? No, we did not. Why? Because it would be a violation of state and federal laws that protect students from the release of personal information."
"I'm proud of the decision we made," Sanders said during Monday's meeting.
"I think the decision we made to provide access to this individual student was the right one," he said. "Having adult supervision in our locker rooms has always been the norm."
Ward said she believes everyone's right to free speech should be honored, and that's why she decided to make her voice heard.
"This isn't about me, it's about ideas," she said. "What is good for students? We disagree profoundly on both sides, but I'm glad that we had this conversation. This conversation needs to be had."
Board member Traci O'Neal Ellis said she wanted it to be clear that the district didn't alter its policy for this situation or related decisions.
"I think it's important to note U46 did not change its policy or practices," she said. This anti-discrimination policy has existed, as is, publicly voted on since 2013.
Ellis said it concerns her the way the matter has come to the surface, and she fully supports the way U46 handled the issue.
Sanders said last week that in advance of the Monday meeting, he reached out to each board member to discuss the way in which the district would act on the matter and he intended to hold a closed-session meeting to hash out the details and then bring the discussion before the public.
"Closed session is where such discussions about the details of handling a student's situation preferably belongs, as individual student privacy must be accorded the maximum protection," Ellis said. "Instead, the board was unfortunately, unilaterally robbed of that ability in favor of having this issue tried in the media first."
Board President Donna Smith said the district's handling of the issue was nothing out of the norm. The way the matter was handled wasn't any different than other concerns the board has looked to address — whether it's up for discussion, action or none of the above, she said.
"This was not an off-the-cuff decision, it was being made thoughtfully," Smith said. "They took into consideration the needs of all students, while following policy and law."
Ward said this issue is broader than U46 and precedent-setting. Palatine-based Township High School District 211 has grappled with a smiliar issue recently.
She said when people disagree on transgender issues, they should not be categorized as belonging to fringe groups; they just disagree.
Some in the crowd held signs backing Ward, and Ward said she was grateful to see the show of support at the Monday meeting.
"They advocate that self-dignity and privacy should be for all students — privacy for transgender students and privacy for all other students," one attendee said. "Open access in locker rooms takes away the privacy of all students."
Heather Matthews, of Bartlett, was one of the U46 parents who spoke out questioning the extent to which people are basing their concerns on evidence and research. She said we must recognize that we need to hold board members accountable to the oath they took upon becoming an elected official to represent all of the district.
"Several months ago, we saw you alienate our black students and families," Matthews said. "Now you've chosen to alienate our transgender students. You label them as threats to our community and intentionally invite controversy instead of collaborative, community problem-solving. I'm calling on each and every one of our school board members to resist the temptations of politics and fame and fear."
Gary Lorber, vice president of the Elgin Teacher's Association, said he supports the district's decision to look at the needs of all students and said it upsets him to see others questioning the leadership of school administration and staff.
"I imagine that once there was a little boy and a little girl who did not look out into the world and find so much to attack, so many that you thought to hurt," he said. "I wonder what a little girl thinks of you when she looks into your eyes. I wonder what hatred you indoctrinate in her eyes when she looks into yours."