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Aurora district receives criticism, support for transgender student policy

On Monday, when East Aurora School Board members unanimously approved a policy addressing the needs and rights of transgender students, they had no idea the waves the decision would create.

E-mails from outraged residents and organizations across the state began flooding board members’ inboxes, and by Wednesday afternoon, board members announced they would meet at 5:30 p.m. Friday to potentially rescind the policy.

“The board never at any time came up with this (policy) on their own,” School Board President Annette Johnson said Wednesday. Instead, board members simply thought they were keeping up with state code.

“It’s something we (board members) would not have questioned in light of the attorney and the administrators bringing it forward,” Johnson said.

The policy, which sets forth several guidelines for school administrators to use when addressing transgender students, was brought forward by Christine Aird, the district’s assistant superintendent of elementary education, Johnson said. Based on the recommendation of Aird, Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Joan Glotzbach and the School District’s attorney, “this is where we ended up,” Johnson said.

The issue was at the end of the board’s meeting agenda Monday night, and was approved by board members without any discussion.

Johnson said she wasn’t even aware of the policy’s controversial nature until the e-mails started coming in Tuesday evening.

On Tuesday, The Illinois Family Institute (IFI) publicized a letter addressing the district, and asking for the repeal of the policy.

IFI tags itself as an “independent non-profit ministry dedicated to upholding and re-affirming marriage, family, life and liberty in Illinois.”

In the letter, IFI calls acceptance of the policy “an outrageous and ignorant decision by the East Aurora High School Board of Education...

“This is a biased, radical, and offensive school board decision that all Illinois taxpayers — especially Aurora community members with or without children in school — should vigorously and tenaciously oppose.”

Johnson said that she has received e-mails from both supporters and opponents of the policy — but that most originated from outside the district.

On Wednesday, a suburban high school math teacher addressed the approval of the policy on his blog, and called for readers to applaud the board for its decision.

“A district in my area did something really amazing earlier this week,” he wrote. “On Monday, the East Aurora Board of Education voted — unanimously — to make things better for transgender students... This is a wonderful step toward making things better for all students, not just the ones who conform to the gender they were born with.”

Johnson said she was surprised by the positive and negative attention surrounding the board’s decision. “This was just a policy the board felt they needed to keep up-to-date with,” she said.

She said she “absolutely” felt that in presenting the board with the policy, Aird had been misleading.

“We usually follow (the Illinois Sate Board of Education) and their recommendations,” Johnson said. “All of us thought, ‘Oh jeez, this is another bullying policy we should comply with.’... Administrators are constantly bringing policy forward.”

Aird could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Johnson said the board never meant to cause controversy.

“We will wait on the ISBE to come up with any policy (regarding transgender students),” she said.

Many districts work with the Illinois Association of School Boards to help draft their policies. According to James Russell of the IASB, there are no policies that pertain specifically to non-conforming students.

East Aurora’s new policy specifically states that transgendered and gender non-conforming students have the right use the restroom that corresponds to their gender-related identity. The student has the right to be addressed by the name they want to be called without having a court-ordered name or gender change.

In most cases, transgendered students should have access to the locker room that corresponds to their gender-related identity, according to the policy. Classes or teams that are segregated by gender should also be open to students according to the gender that the student self-identifies with.

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