EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Two and a half years after failing to approve a policy regarding transgender student access to facilities, the Board of Education will vote next week to introduce new rules to comply with state guidance.

Facing a loss in funding due to noncompliance, the board brought up the policy for discussion at its work meeting Tuesday. The discussion was met by both opposition from some parents concerned about their children in bathrooms and locker rooms, and support from others.

While some districts have quietly passed their own transgender policies in recent years, the topic has been controversial in other districts, including Egg Harbor Township, where on Tuesday even some board members disagreed on how to move forward.

“I find that is the government putting a lot of pressure onto the school district, which those matters should be discussed at home or through a doctor,” board member Marita Sullivan said, taking issue with portions of the policy regarding parental notification of student transitioning. “For us to deny parents information on the child who is a minor in our school district, I believe that is wrong.”

Tamika Gilbert-Floyd, who chairs the board’s policy subcommittee, said that despite not having a policy previously, the district had been compliant for years with the guidance and “making sure all students feel safe and secure while in school.” She said passing the policy was not just about funding.

The new policy provides for the protection of all students, she said, including access to unisex bathrooms for those students who may feel uncomfortable.

“I say all, that’s a capital A-L-L,” Gilbert-Floyd said.

The policy is back on the table in Egg Harbor Township after a state-required review of district policies showed the district was out of compliance with state guidelines regarding having a policy for transgender student rights.

A corrective action plan was developed and approved by the state July 8. The district has 180 days to implement the needed policy updates or it could result in the loss of $3.5 million in federal funds and untold state funds, Business Administrator Chandra Anaya told the board this week.

The transgender student rights policy was developed by the Toms River law firm Strauss Esmay, which developed similar policies for districts around the state, and mimics the state’s transgender policy guidance, which was released in fall 2018. The guidelines were released about a year and a half after a state law mandating them, and help districts develop policies regarding transgender student rights, including access to bathrooms and locker rooms as well as standards for pronouns and chosen names.

The board is expected to vote on first reading Tuesday. The full policy is available online with Tuesday's board agenda, Anaya said. 

Sullivan said she believes the district needs a transgender policy, but that the state guidance does allow districts to develop their own policy. She said she felt the school’s bathrooms and locker rooms are where the district sees the most behavior problems, including bullying, fights and smoking, and that a policy like the one presented could lead to more problems.

“I believe that the students who are transitioning would not be safe in that environment, so I am asking that they use private facilities,” Sullivan said.

Gilbert-Floyd said some of the concerns she has heard with the policy are issues the adults have, not the students.

“I do think that our students are much more resilient, much more accepting and tolerant of one another,” she said.

Board member Kristy Bird said Sullivan makes a good point about the bathrooms, but asked whether there were any data to support that transgender students were less safe in a public bathroom.

“We can’t make policy based on what we’re afraid of. We have to make policy based on the laws, so following the law is what we’re doing in this policy,” Bird said.

The New Jersey School Boards Association, which participated in developing the guidelines, said while there is no law that says school districts must adopt a specific transgender policy, there is content regarding transgender students that is required in school policies.

Like EHT, Ocean City Board of Education members posed questions regarding student privacy from parents over the summer as it considered its transgender policy, but board President Joe Clark said the state guidance is clear and personal emotions cannot play into the decision.

“This is state law, and as it was spoken at the table at the last meeting, you don’t have a lot of leeway,” Clark said. “A lot of what we pass is dictated on the state level, and on a case like this, there’s a lot of mixed emotions.”

The Ocean City board will consider its policy at its meeting Wednesday.

In a survey last year of local districts regarding transgender policies, only a few responded. Former Lower Cape May Regional Superintendent Chris Kobik said the district has had a policy in place since October 2015, and Vineland Assistant Superintendent John Frangipani said his district adopted a policy regarding transgender students in 2014 and has since updated it.

Contact: 609-272-7251

CLowe@pressofac.com

Twitter @clairelowe

Staff Writer

I began covering South Jersey in 2008 after graduating from Rowan University with a degree in journalism. I joined The Press in 2015. In 2013, I was awarded a NJPA award for feature writing as a reporter for The Current of Hamilton Township.

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