NORWAY, Maine (WMTW) – The Oxford Hills School District held a public forum Monday to give community members an opportunity to comment on a proposed gender identity policy in K-12 schools.
MSAD 17 held the first reading of the policy at the last school board meeting in October. It aims to provide support to students of all genders and sexual identities by fostering a safe and comfortable environment free of harassment.
Data from the most recent Maine Integrated Youth Health survey shows that about 21.2% of Maine high school students identify as gay or lesbian, bisexual or something other than straight.
The school board says the proposed policy is necessary to ensure the school complies with federal laws and state guidelines including Title IX.
The public comment period continued for nearly three hours. Most of the speakers were against the proposed policies. Many focused on what they call parental rights.
“A seven-year-old can choose to withhold his gender identity from his parents or legal guardian, and teachers, staff, administration, coaches, they will be obligated to keep that information secret,” said parent Charity Johnson.
The policy aims to encourage students to talk about their gender and sexuality with teachers and trusted counselors privately and some concerns that it will allow teachers to withhold important information from parents.
“Our schools basically shouldn’t be encouraging kids to lead a double life, one where they’re one person at school and another at home, which can be mentally and emotionally difficult,” the parent said. Terry Brooks. “Instead, we need to work with families to help and support children with their mental and emotional wellbeing.”
Supporters of the policy argue that it would create a safe space that is essential for students whose parents do not support their gender identity.
“There are times when these young people need extended support from the wider community to feel worthy, safe and fully valued,” said social worker Amanda Miller.
Administrations stress that teachers and staff members are always obligated to notify parents if a student is at risk.
If the school board decides to move forward with the policy, they will hold a vote on whether to approve it after a second reading. That will likely happen at the December school board meeting.
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