New Hampshire

SAD 17 policy committee revisits gender identity policy

PARIS — Members of Maine’s County 17 Policy Committee met Monday to reiterate the need to write a policy that addresses the needs of at-risk students who are part of the county’s LGBTQIA+ population.

At his second policy committee meeting since returning to the school board, Principal Troy Ripley of Paris asked for clarification on how the policy would progress after the board voted to table the draft ACAAA gender identity policy on Dec. 5 indefinitely.

Ripley was only appointed to the board on December 20.

“My concern is that the entire board voted unanimously to end this. There was no mention at all of raising this issue or the need for this policy,” Ripley said. “In order to revisit this issue, I hope that we will inform the entire board.”

“The official decision was to put it forward indefinitely,” Waterford director Judy Green, who also chairs the policy committee, told Ripley. “Some board members thought that might have meant scrubbing it. Our MP (Harrison’s Mark Heidmann) has shown them that the Roberts Rules allow it to be raised again without setting a date.”

“And the rule ‘forbids the resubmission of the motion in the same session’ comes in,” added Heidmann. “It cannot be presented at the same session. There’s nothing that says it’s just dead. It was specifically stated at the meeting that the committee would look into this again.”

The Dec. 5 vote “was made to be postponed indefinitely,” Ripley said. “It’s a polite way of killing something.”

“I say that’s not true,” said Heidmann.

“My point would be,” Ripley continued. “That you have a lot of fellowship and full board that thought you were going to kill it so be prudent. So we wouldn’t find ourselves exactly where we were, in my opinion. So let’s try to pick up the same problem again. If you had a discussion in plenary, Judy thinks we could have said, ‘We’re going to change that, we’re going to talk about fundamentally changing what we’ve been doing.’”

Heidmann reiterated that in his statements prior to the motion to file ACAAA indefinitely, he specifically indicated that it would be brought back to the board on first reading, and Greene added that Heidmann’s statements about continuing work on a revised Policy reported by the Advertiser Democrat.

The committee then devoted itself to the substantive review of the policy, beginning with the template provided by the district attorney’s office, Drummond Woodsum, to guide consideration in drafting a policy for the district.

Among the concerns that directors discussed were the language of the policy, deleting the word “should” in favor of the word “should” when describing district staff interactions with transgender students, and revising the policy so that it was unambiguous states that parents will be informed if their child claims that the school identifies them as transgender.

Heidmann also said a new draft policy will explicitly describe what district employees can’t do.

Ripley asked the Policy Committee members to explain why it was even necessary to have a policy.

“What exactly is politics trying to achieve?” asked Ripley. “Ninety-four percent of Maine schools do not have these types of policies … There have not yet been any state or federal guidelines on these types of policies. It seems to me that the schools that advanced them are almost a hundred percent in litigation. Why shouldn’t we wait for guidance and guidelines?”

“Are you saying that 100 percent of the schools in the state will be sued with this policy?” Green asked.

Acknowledging that “some” would be a more accurate estimate, Ripley listed Portland, Damariscotta and Manchester, New Hampshire, as counties dealing with gender identity issues.

According to news reports, Portland recently suspended a substitute teacher who shared a transgender-themed TikTok video with middle school-age students. In Damariscotta, a parent contacted the county school board after a social worker secretly provided her child with a breast pad. And last fall, a parent in Manchester, New Hampshire, filed a lawsuit over their transgender child who was dumped in that county.

SAD 17 Director Natalie Andrews stated that a policy would address the actions of a district employee who provides a child with a breast pad.

“A policy allows us to provide training and restrictions on what teachers are allowed to do,” she said. “In the case of the teacher who bound that one student? They don’t have a policy that says you can’t do that. It sets parameters for what teachers can and cannot do.”

“My suggestion (rewriting the policy) is that we pay equal attention to what you (employees) are not allowed to do,” Heidmann said. “We are not in a position to give medical advice. We’re not going to (specifically) do A, B, C, and D. We will make the boundaries clearer in every direction.”

Andrews said the Oxford Hills Education Association also advised that teachers should be able to engage with the policy because it will affect how district staff conduct their work with transgender issues.

Curtis Cole (right), director of the SAD 17 school board from Norway, explains the background of the proposed Student Identity Policy ACAAA to Paris director Troy Ripley (second from right). Also pictured from left: Assistant Superintendent Steve Ciembroniewicz, Harrison’s Director Mark Heidmann and Waterford’s Director Judy Green. Nicole Carter / recruiter Democrat

Director Curtis Cole of Norway added that Oxford Hills, as a large district with a 22-member board, is better positioned to address controversial issues than smaller bodies with fewer staff. He said that the SAD 17 administrators asked the board to come up with a policy, and Ripley explained that the district leaders could have written a procedure on student gender identity, but instead suggested that the board draft it publicly.

Later in the session, another Paris director, Bob Jewell, joined the session and took the floor to reiterate comments similar to those made by Ripley at the beginning.

“This policy has gone through the Board and the community, and the Board has voted unanimously to postpone it indefinitely,” Jewell said. “Postponing indefinitely is a polite way of letting a bill die. Regardless, I think the board should say if we want to go ahead with that for this to come back. It voted not to continue with that.”

Jewell then said that when the board voted for an indefinite postponement, the policy committee did not ask for a postponement, it asked for an indefinite postponement.

“Out of respect for the overall board and community, it should go back to the board and see if the board says go ahead and do it,” Jewell said.

“I gave a little speech to the board that we’re trying,” Green corrected him. “Whatever you call it, our goal is to take it back, keep working on it, and bring back significant changes. We proposed that, we said to the board, ‘what should we call this motion’, and the board voted on that.”

“The board expects us to come back with something different, not just move on,” said Cole. “At least half of the board would be totally surprised if we had amnesia on this issue and moved on. It would put our administration in a difficult position because their staff expect the board to do something.”

The committee also discussed the need to address other policies that need to be revised to reflect changing legislation. Green urged directors to consider district needs that might dictate consideration of new policies.

As the meeting adjourned, Jewell reiterated Ripley’s earlier question about why Oxford Hills is taking a lead on gender identity when 94% of Maine schools have not implemented a policy, and asked why the district should be addressing the issue before there is a precedent.

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