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Proposed 'Transgender Policy' would allow students to use pronouns, facilities at Canon City Schools

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Posted at 8:15 PM, Aug 03, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-04 12:15:25-04

CANON CITY — A local school district is considering a policy that would allow transgender students to use their preferred name, pronoun, and facility consistent with their gender identity.

Canon City Schools drafted the "Transgender Policy" last month to foster an environment free of stigma and discrimination for students and staff. It allows students to change their name, pronoun, attire, and participate in programs/activities/ facilities consistent with their gender identity.

Schools will advocate with the CHSAA for students who are transgender and gender nonconforming to be permitted to participate in interscholastic athletics in a manner consistent with their gender identity as reflected in their school records.

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Parents can tell staff of their student's decision to be recognized at school using their stated gender identity or students can let the staff know about it. While the district will respect the student's choice - administrators say they can't actively conceal information from parents regarding a students decision to transition at school.

The policy would apply to the entire school community (elementary, middle, and high school), teachers, staff, students, and any parent or guardian volunteers.

The district tells News 5 that the policy is in response to community wishes along with state and federal laws concerning bullying, harassment, privacy, and discrimination. Specifically Title IX which prohibits sex-based discrimination in any school or any other education program that receives funding from the federal government.

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Shortly after the first reading at the Canon City School Board meeting (July 25), the district tabled the policy indefinitely. The decision comes after the district received an overwhelming response from parents both for and against the proposal. The district says this time will allow them to better educate the community on the policy.

"I am ecstatic. I knew I lived in a conservative town, and I knew the district was supportive of LGBTQ+ students, but to hear about a policy targeted toward trans kids I knew I had to be at the school board meeting. Being at the meeting, getting the policy, and reading through it — I was like wow this is a lot more in depth than I thought it was going to be. I figured the policy was going to be just around pronouns, social transitioning, and name," said Sam, Canon City Schools parent.

Being non-binary, Sam believes the policy could help transgender kids across the district.

"Since the meeting, I have been a little bit afraid to go outside, to be around the people because I am seeing these people who are so angry about something that is me. If myself as an adult who has their own life and job, how do you think these children feel when they don't have any of those things. Maybe their families aren't accepting and they could lose their home and their family. Maybe they are getting bullied a lot because they have to be in their gender locker room. Those situations create so much in a child and in a person. You sit there with those mental health problems your entire life," said Sam.

Other Canon City Schools parents like Ginnie Chairez believe the policy is too progressive, especially for their community.

"It does not suit the beliefs and the values that this community holds. It really doesn't represent this community very well, and I know there are a few that want to be considered. Considering them is very important to the vast majority of our entire community, we want to make sure people feel included and loved. However, having a policy thrust upon this community doesn't fit the community, and that is why there has been a lot of backlash," said Chairez.

She is concerned with how the policy could impact her two young daughters.

"First of all, women's sports which is a really big deal. I don't want my girls to be robbed of the experience of competing against other females with the same chromosomes. Men have a biological advantage over women which is why it is traditionally being separated before. Having separate, private spaces is the biggest concern. There is already information in the national news about a cheerleading camp where a transgender female was at this camp. Some remarks were made, and that person lashed out in anger, and put this other female who was a biological female into a chokehold, " said Chairez.

Buffy Kohen is another mother concerned with transgender students sharing spaces.

"For me having a freshman daughter getting ready to start high school sports, having a male in the locker room with her. Additionally, threatening her position or ability to make the team because Title IX gave equal and gay rights to women to have their own sports separate from males. That concerns me for a lot of reasons as it's been a fight to get to that, and now we're trying to take it away," said Koehn.

She doesn't understand the reason for the policy when the district amended the non-discrimination policy (June 30) to include the appropriate language.

"Our neighbors in Florence, we checked with them and they have nothing on the record. They say it was four words added to our policies, and that was done back in June so this policy is outside of our neighboring communities. We are the only ones doing it, and it is concerning why it was pushed in our community and why the neighboring communities aren't doing anything," said Koehn.

"I feel like this is a pretty complicated issue that shouldn't be rushed. There are some points about how this policy came to the attention of the community that is concerning, and there are some points within the policy itself that is concerning as well. From a legal standpoint, there are still open-ended questions as to what is going to be required of school districts as transgender is added to Title XI protections," said Aaron Wolking, Canon City community member.

He continued, "We have not yet found the federal or state law that would mandate this type of policy. There is changes in language to the anti-discrimination policy that has been mandated and implemented by the school district but we have not found the specific federal or state law that requires this kind of process," said Wolking.

One of his biggest concerns is the lack of guidance for educators and the school board when it comes to parental consent. He believes the policy can be harmful, regardless of grade level. However, from a policy enforcement standpoint, Wolking says it can be a different conversation for junior and seniors compared to younger kids. When it comes to minors, he says parental consent and notification is essential.

"This is a policy that is impacting every grade level. Starting from kindergartens all the way to seniors in high school, this is impacting the entire range of students within our community. They left the language in the policy very vague as to what is going to be required when it comes to parental consent and notification. We understand that it can be a different conversation perhaps if you're talking about a junior or senior in high school when it comes to how they want to be identified. I still know how I feel about it personally, but that is at least a different conversation. When it comes to kindergartners, first or second graders, the policy left it open. Best practices was the guiding principal within the policy document, and best practices according to policy experts is a very vague term which allows districts to do whatever they feel like," said Wolking.

"Our policy identifies what is legally required, but also recommendations as to what does it look like at the school level. We actually went as far as to look at other guidance documents around the state to see what this means in terms of when we notify parents, how do we go about doing that, and how we discuss risks and benefits. We tried to connect some of that guidance to the policy — being transparent about this is how we are going to support kids and families," said Adam Hartman, Superintendent of Canon City Schools.

Hartman says the number of transgender students increase each year, and those students need additional support and securities to feel comfortable, welcome, and safe at school. He understands some parents might not feel comfortable with their children sharing facilities such as restrooms with transgender students, but he says federal guidance is clear (referring to the Executive Order from President Biden).

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"What the law says is someone who identifies as another gender has the right to access that particular bathroom, meaning a unisex bathroom may be available for anyone uncomfortable with that. These are difficult concepts and issues for school districts to tangle with — to hear local community and help provide an overview of what we are legal required to do. Unisex restrooms are certainly an option for people who chose to use them, and in a lot of cases people do. But if someone were to say, no I would perfer to the use the restroom of my choosing, that is where that point of friction lies," said Hartman. "We did have legal guidance on this all of the way, but we will have legal work with us with the voice of community concern. Some are suggesting that it is up for legal debate, but it has appeared in both state and federal that it is settled."

Hartman has asked the legal team to provide a document showing what federal and state law requires of school districts.

"This is a community issue. It is a community issue for our town, it is a community issue for our state, and it is a community issue for our nation. This is a discussion that is happening right now, and I think it is important when people are engaging in this work to try to keep free of judgment to say this is good, bad, evil or otherwise and say these are a lot of people who have strong feelings about what is good for kids and how can we come together, understand the law, and how can we move it forward to support kids locally in our community," said Hartman.

In the meantime, parents on both sides of the issue plan to fight for their beliefs.

"No amount of social acceptance whether forced or otherwise is going to change a person's chromosomes. Males are born males, and females are born females. To try to be socially accepted on the outside does not change anything on the inside. You are still the person you were born, and I think this is putting a band-aid on a much bigger issue where some of these people — dysphoria is a mental health issue. I think this is a rushed and hurried process to try to implement something that might not address the underlying issues," said Chairez.

"A lot of times people who stand in opposition to this sort of policy, there is an aspersion that is cast on our motivations, feeling that somehow it is rooted in hate, intolerance, or bigotry which is the furthest thing from the truth. I do not hate anyone, but I do believe what I believe, and I do want to do whatever I can to protect my kids," said Wolking.

"The policy isn't being put into place to harm any children, it is not being put into place as a political statement, it is not being put into place as some evil act, it is being put in to protect kids, to protect a certain population of kids yes, but it is there to protect kids," said Sam.

While the policy is tabled for now, the district encourages families to attend the next school board meeting August 8 at 5:30 p.m. in the Central Administration Building (101 N. 14th St.) They plan to extend the time for public comment to two hours to accommodate people interested in sharing their thoughts, concerns, or questions. Those unable to go can contact the superintendent or board members via the Canon City Schools website.