WILLIAMSTON- From students and staff, to city residents and LGBTQ advocates, the Williamston Board of Education met Oct. 16 as people crowded the halls and filled nearly every seat in the room to discuss the 8011 Transgender and Non-Conforming Student Policy that will reach its final decision on Nov. 6.
The meeting began promptly at 7:30 p.m. with citizens’ comments where many members of the community took a stance on the suggested proposal regarding equal protection of transgender and non-conforming students.
According to the 8011 Proposal, “WCS shall accept the gender identity that each student asserts reflecting the students’ legitimately held belief once the student or his or her parent/guardian, as appropriate, notifies District administration that the student intends to assert a gender identity that differs from previous representations or records.”
The tension in the room began during the Pledge of Allegiance, as many members of the community did not stand up. Prior to the citizens’ comments, many members of the military expressed their concern for this silent protest.
There were nearly 60 citizens anticipating speaking time, and the board implemented a number system with time increments to adhere to this large sum of individuals eager to take a stance.
A parent began by asking the board, “If this policy is approved are you seriously going to look at an elementary student who can barely tie their shoes and affirm that he has the capacity to choose what gender he wants to be?”
This parent was followed by a large crowd of those who supported the proposal and responded by walking around the room, while holding back tears, handing out rainbow pins to advocate for the equality of transgender and non-conforming students.
The next to talk was Williamston High School junior Luke Schafer, who advocates for his personal beliefs on the proposal, and believes it will directly affect students in Williamston.
“Although I know many members of the audience are very passionate about this topic, you have to realize that you won’t be directly living with the consequences of this proposed policy, because my classmates and I are the ones that will have to deal with the negative repercussions,” Schafer said. “A petition was created by a freshman and was passed throughout the high school recently. This petition, which calls for the rejection of the planned transgender policy, garnered nearly 200 signatures from students who did not want the policy to be implemented.”
Williamston High School junior Josh Springston expressed contrasting beliefs to Schafer, although he did not speak out during the meeting.
“I think people should be able to do what they want,” Springston said. “Although the proposal will be easy to abuse, I agree with it for the most part. People should be able to express how they feel.”
Following the citizens’ comments, which was cut short due to other things on the agenda, the board spent time discussing the proposed policy.
Although Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded education programs and activities, board member Jeffrey West said that the board had no legal obligation to implement a policy, but believed it was their responsibility to protect all students.
“We did not have a big road map to follow on this, but all seven of us on the board felt that we needed to do something to protect students,” West said. “I also think that no one student’s rights are more important than another. We need to protect our transgender and non-conforming students, but we also have to protect our whole student body.”
West also proposed some alterations to the policy to better fit all students and members of the community.
“The updated policy we have today has a lot less language than the original draft, however we brought it to the board to discuss because I still feel uncomfortable with it,” West said. “I believe that we need to add more on our anti-bullying policies that we already have in our schools.”
Board member Kathy Hayes disclosed her statement on the policy following West, also advocating for a policy that will be a key proponent for success for transgender and non- conforming individuals.
“We must develop policies that are informed by law, protect all students and make sense for the community that it serves,” Hayes said. “Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity is prohibited in the state of Michigan within government employment. I recognize that these ordinances don’t cover schools, but it’s obvious that transgender individuals exist and we need to consider and address how we protect their civil rights.”
The meeting concluded after allowing for additional citizens’ comments and correspondence from the proposed 8011 Policy.
The Williamston Board of Education Meeting anticipates to have a final draft of the policy at their next meeting on Nov. 6 at 7:30 p.m. at Williamston Middle School.