Transgender debate packs school board meeting

The historic Minden Elementary School serves as offices for the Douglas County School District.

The historic Minden Elementary School serves as offices for the Douglas County School District.

A more than capacity crowd turned out at Tuesday’s Douglas County School Board meeting, as parents, students, teachers, counselors, and LGBTQ advocates filled the room and waited outside to speak on a transgender policy proposed by the Douglas County School Board.

The proposal would block transgender students from using certain bathrooms and locker rooms or to participate in sports teams.

After more than three hours of public comment and discussion, School Board trustees continued the policy pending further information.

“It was packed,” said Douglas County School District Marketing and Communication Director Hailey Sebahar. “I have never seen so many people at a board meeting both in person and online. At one point we had 262 people on Zoom.”

Parent Natalie Stevens said the proposal would not discriminate against transgender students, but it boils down to a policy for bathrooms and sports.

“Just because I don’t want that for my child doesn’t mean I am discriminating, it doesn’t mean that I don’t care about all children” said Stevens. “I am a teacher, I am a parent aid, I am a coach, I work with kids all the time and I love every single one of them and all I’d like to do is better their lives. I don’t care what they look like, I don’t care who they love, I don’t care who they identify with, but just because I don’t want my child to be in that environment doesn’t make me discriminatory. It’s quite the opposite.”

Many said the proposed policy is “damaging” and “unnecessary” and fear that it could have a negative impact on students’ mental health and safety.

Douglas High School teacher Meghan Nield read a statement on behalf of students in the schools’ Gay Straight Alliance club who said they want “School to be a safe place for everyone, not just those deemed ‘normal.’”

One high school student said she had friends who identified as transgender or gender-nonconforming and she will continue to stand up for them, herself and fellow students, no matter how they wish to express themselves, while other students and parents expressed concern for their safety.

Other community members and Trustee Linda Gilkerson urged the board to leave the matter to state and federal lawmakers and to focus instead on the here and now, rather than put the district at risk of a potential lawsuit.

“We talked about wanting to give teachers raises, but this is going to take the money right out of our district,” said Gilkerson.

The ACLU of Nevada said it would pursue litigation if the board moved forward with the policy, Executive Director Athar Haseebullah said on Tuesday.

“We will not under any circumstance permit you to discriminate against our transgender or gender-nonconforming students,” he said.

Sabahar said there is no actual record of how many transgender or gender-nonconforming students are in the school district, but it is estimated that around 15 students identify as such, that is known of. There also have been no reported incidents and no students are participating outside of their gendered sports or using bathrooms or locker rooms different from their birth genders.

The day before Tuesday’s meeting, Superintendent Keith Lewis released a statement in response to significant online inaccuracies.

“First, there is no official DCSD policy addressing transgender students,” he wrote. “Instead, the district is required by state regulation under NAC 388.880(c) to meet individually with transgender students and families to develop a plan which best meets the student’s needs, after balancing the needs of the school community. This process has worked well on these rare occasions in the past, with the district successfully developing a needs-based plan without any controversy.”

Lewis said the discussion was sought by school board trustees, who set policy in the district.

“Several elected Board members have requested to discuss and take possible action on creating an official DCSD policy involving transgender students, which is the board’s prerogative,” he said. “Although Board members have initiated the discussion on this topic, to state that the board is being forced to address a current DCSD policy is not an accurate statement.”

Lewis said that his staff hasn’t sought to adopt a new policy.

“Our district staff members care about our students as individuals and work hard to support every child during these complex times,” he said. “The DCSD staff did not initiate the discussion on creating a new policy but is prepared to implement any directives from the elected Board of Trustees on this topic in a manner consistent with state and federal law.”


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