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Blair Oaks policy on transgender students not unique in area

by Anna Campbell | June 19, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.

The Blair Oaks School Board got an earful of praise and criticism for its policy on transgender students Tuesday, following weeks of questions from the community.

The board offered the "extended public comment" period prior to its June board meeting so members of the public could voice their feelings on Policy 2115, passed in November of 2020.

Policy 2115 allows transgender students to choose a name and pronoun by which to be identified and dress according to their gender identity. It also allows all students to use restrooms that are gender-neutral, aligned with their "biological sex" or aligned with their "self-identified gender." It also outlines Missouri State High School Activities Association rules for transgender athletes.

Blair Oaks is certainly not alone in its policy decisions; several other Mid-Missouri school boards have implemented a similar policy using template policy language from Missouri Consultants for Education.

"Missouri Consultants for Education (MCE) School Board Policy Service provides a practical and legally sound set of school board policies and regulations developed by experienced school administrators and trial-experienced school attorneys," its website reads. The site contains an organized list of policies that schools can download.

Missouri Consultants for Education did not return requests for comment.

The Cole R-5 School District in Eugene has an identical policy that came from MCE, and Osage County R-2 in Linn has a similar policy.

However, in the section addressing bathroom usage, Linn's policy does not contain a clause allowing students to use a bathroom aligned with their "self-identified gender"-- only one aligned with their biological sex or a gender-neutral bathroom. The "self-identified gender" language is in the original policy from Missouri Consultants for Education. Representatives of the Linn School District did not respond to a question about the reasoning behind that language change.

Helias Catholic High School has a student handbook policy relating to gender.

"All students are expected to conduct themselves in a manner consistent with their biological gender," it says.

"The school's general policy is outlined in the student handbook, and any specific concerns relating to it would be addressed individually as appropriate for the situation," said Communications Director Rebecca Martin. "Helias Catholic's policies align with the teachings of the church under the guidance of the Diocese of Jefferson City and are intended to help us partner with families in the faith formation and education of their children."

Other area schools' policies do not specifically address the subject of transgender students.

Superintendent Perry Gorrell, of Cole County R-1 School District in Russellville, said they do not have a specific policy addressing transgender students, but there are policies that provide guidance "on how all individuals must be treated."

Policy AC outlines Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination. Some courts and the Justice Department have said gender discrimination and discrimination based on sexual orientation also fall under this category.

Gorrell also said the school has a policy that prohibits enforcing any rule that "will impose dress and grooming rules based on gender in violation of Title IX."

California R-1 School District and Southern Boone School District in Ashland both carry those same general policies, but Southern Boone's superintendent Chris Felmlee said there are also procedures in place for transgender students.

"While the Southern Boone School District has not adopted a policy regarding transgender students specifically, the school district does have, and has had for many years, policies and procedures in place which serve to protect all students from discrimination and harassment," Felmlee said in a statement."We are also committed to providing a safe and positive learning environment for all students and we recognize the importance of privacy for students using restrooms and locker rooms in our schools.

"If a student chooses to disclose his, her or their identity as transgender to school officials, then a locker room accommodation will be made to ensure an appropriate level of privacy for all involved. School administration will meet with the student and their parents to address their needs and develop an individualized plan for the student. Our schools do offer gender-neutral restrooms and areas/rooms for students to change," Felmlee said.

While it has a policy outlining Title IX, the Jefferson City School District does not have a policy that specifically addresses transgender students, nor does Calvary Lutheran High School.

Calvary Lutheran Executive Director John Christman said the school does not yet have a policy directly dealing with transgender students, but it does have a family values policy that families receive with their admissions packets.

"Christian beliefs, as understood and taught in the (Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod), pervade everything that is done at Calvary Lutheran High School," it states.

"The LC-MS teaches that God wonderfully creates each person as male or female and rejection of one's biological sex is a rejection of the image of God within that person," it later says.

Blair Oaks listed review of its transgender student policy as an agenda item at its June board meeting, but decided not to take action on the item that night.

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