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Unified continues work on transgender student policy

Unified continues work on transgender student policy


Ash Whitaker is shown in this photo from April 2016. The transgender youth's lawsuit against the Kenosha Unified School District has led to the district considering a policy regarding treatment of transgender students.

A policy regarding transgender students is inching closer to approval by the Kenosha Unified School Board.

On Wednesday, the board reviewed the policy that would allow — in most cases — transgender and gender-nonconforming students to use facilities, such as locker rooms and restrooms, aligned with the gender with which they identify.

Any student who has a need for increased privacy, regardless of any underlying reason, would be provided with access to a “single access” restroom if available, but no student would be required to use such facility just because of their transgender or gender non-conforming status, according to the proposed policy.

In late August, the board first met to discuss this and three other policies dealing with equal opportunity and non-discrimination in education, bullying and employee anti-harassment.

On Wednesday, the board spent a significant portion of the hourlong work session reviewing the policy, adding new language regarding facilities access.

Such requests would be addressed by the building principal, Title IX coordinator and superintendent for response. In addition, the board added that a response would occur within 15 school days and could be extended with good cause.

Overnight accommodations

The board also discussed dealing with school-related programs that involve hotel stays or other overnight accommodations.

Under the district’s policy proposal, generally, students of one gender would not be permitted to share a room with students of another gender, and room assignments would be made based upon biological gender reflected in the district’s official records.

Board members, at the previous work session, had wondered if there would be more flexibility.

While the board examined a more student-driven policy established by the Madison Metropolitan School District, attorney Ron Stadler of the law firm Jackson Lewis P.C. said he had misgivings about it because it did not appear to address parents or guardians having a say.

He noted it appeared to be driven by the needs of just transgender students when it came to rooming preference “regardless of their parents’ input and regardless of the input of any other students’ parents or any other students for that matter,” he said.

Board member Tom Duncan said Unified’s policy would give consideration for input from all students’ parents, a move that would allow for flexibility when considering alternate arrangements involving transgender individuals.

Stadler said it’s fine if all parents agree, but the district could not disclose student information regarding gender status.

2016 lawsuit

The impetus for establishing the policy stems from a lawsuit brought forth in 2016 by Ash Whitaker, a transgender student who had attended Tremper High School.

Whitaker maintained that the district discriminated against him, the suit alleging staff had monitored him and singling him out from other students. Whitaker, born female, identifies as male.

The suit progressed through two federal court levels — each time resulting in allowing Whitaker to use male-only facilities at the high school.

The district filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court asking that it overturn an appeals court ruling. However, last year, it withdrew the petition and opted to settle the suit with Whitaker for $800,000 rather than go forward with mounting legal costs and risk potential exposure for several millions of dollars in what could’ve become an even more protracted legal battle.

While the board did not vote on any of the policies, Superintendent Sue Savaglio-Jarvis said she expects to be able to bring them to a regular board meeting soon for further discussion.

The policies are expected to come before the board for a formal vote before the end of the academic year.


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