A vocal and at times angry crowd of community members on Tuesday watched as the Chehalis School Board passed a new gender-inclusive school policy that aims to better socially integrate transgender and “gender-expansive” students.
Chehalis School District’s Board Policy 3211 was passed on first reading at the meeting, meaning it will come back to the school board next month for final approval before becoming official school policy.
The board policy presented Tuesday was much broader in scope than what was presented at last month’s meeting. It includes student protections for use of names and pronouns; allows students to use any restroom, locker room or participate in any sport that aligns with their gender; codifies the district’s responsibility to respond to any harassment based on sex, gender identity or expression; and specifies record-keeping procedures for staff and administrators.
Last month, the board experienced similar opposition from community members urging the five elected officials to not pass the new policy. Many of the concerns revolved around transgender students using restrooms and locker rooms that aligned with their expressed gender. The board at the time opted to table the vote and consult with the district’s legal counsel to see if there was another way forward.
“The board requested revised procedures that were provided for our review. We were able to make some modifications to model procedures that we think fit our district needs and still comply with the law,” said Board President Larry Petersen. “As non-partisan elected officials of a public school district, we are required to uphold the law, including adoption of this policy.”
District leaders have been adamant in noting that this new policy is not expected to change the way it conducts business with students; it already has in place many of the state requirements to address its population of transgender students, said Superintendent Christine Moloney.
“We have been supporting transgender students and others for many years here at Chehalis School District, and our practices and procedures aren’t going to be changing because of this policy procedure and the law, because we have administrators and counselors that have been meeting with students and families to make them feel comfortable and welcomed, and checking in with them to make sure they can access that high-quality education that we have here at Chehalis School District and be successful,” she said.
The district has gender-neutral restrooms and alternative dressing areas for all students in every school building, Moloney said.
“We will continue to make sure that all of our students are welcomed and feel safe in our schools. We encourage parents to talk directly with your child’s administrator if they have a particular concern related to their own child,” Moloney said, adding that students who illegitimately claim these new rights in bad faith may be subject to disciplinary action.
Most school districts in Washington state have already adopted district policies similar to what’s being proposed in Chehalis. Centralia has had a policy enacted for many months now, according to previous Chronicle reporting. Districts that don’t enact policy in line with the state’s laws on transgender policy might be subject to termination of state money.
Around 100 people filled the W.F. West High School commons on Tuesday to show their opposition to the district’s proposed gender-inclusion policy. Roughly 15 individuals provided public comment, with an overwhelming number of those being against it.
Some characterized the new policy as a “perversion of morals.” Others likened the district’s actions to that of Nazi Germany. Some also cited the U.S. and state constitutions. Many shared a religious perspective in their denouncement of the transgender-inclusion policy, with one woman saying, “all confusion comes from Satan.”
A couple parents also pleaded to the school board to remove mask requirements this fall.
One parent, Tara Phillips, the mother of a transgender student within the district, attempted to dispel the negative reaction. She said she felt personally attacked by the comments and felt the language presented didn’t push any ideals or morals on students or attempt to push them outside of their comfort zone.
“The whole point was that we’re trying to make sure that all students feel safe in our building. And while, yes, I realize the majority of students don’t fall under this rule, there’s probably a bigger handful than you might know. Have you bothered to ask students how this makes them feel? Have you bothered to ask people who might be affected by this on a more personal level?” asked Phillips.
“If love is love, and everyone can agree with that, why does this have to be so negative for our children?” she added.
Following the board’s vote on BP 3211, most in the crowd voiced disapproval. One man repeatedly interrupted Petersen as he tried to move to the next agenda item.
Board Member Vicki Daniels suggested the attendees take their concerns to the legislative and judicial branches as the district’s hands were tied in the matter.
“It was a state law. We took an oath to uphold the state law. We tabled it at our last meeting until we got legal information that said that even if we don’t pass this law, it will still be our law,” Daniels said.
She added later: “I think the best way that I can explain it is a favorite quote of mine by Plato, and it says, ‘The ultimate form of knowledge is empathy. To put aside one’s ego and put yourself in someone else’s shoes.’ And, as school board members, that’s what we have to do for all our students … We have to do what we can for all our students, whether we believe in them or not. We stand up for them. And we are not to judge — we have to do what we can do within our legal parameters, and that’s what we’re doing.”
The board will hold its next meeting at 10 a.m. Aug. 17 at the high school commons.
What’s in the New Policy?
BP 3211 is perhaps the district’s most broad policy outlining how to conduct education with students identifying as transgender or gender-expansive.
“Gender expansive” is an umbrella term that characterizes a person's gender expression when it falls outside the general notion of the gender binary.
Under the new policy, a designated school employee or administrator may request a meeting with a transgender or gender-expansive student upon their enrollment or in response to a student’s request to change their expression or identity. The goal of the meeting, according to the district’s five-page policy outline, is to develop an understanding of the student’s needs.
“An appropriate school employee will privately ask known transgender or gender-expansive students how they would like to be addressed in class, in correspondence to the home, and at conferences with the student’s parent/guardian,” the policy reads.
Students may amend their school records to reflect their change in gender expression, though a standardized high school transcript is the only official record that requires a student’s legal name. Students won’t be required to change their official records or obtain a court-ordered name or gender change in order to change their school records.
“The school must use the name and gender by which the student identifies on all other records, including but not limited to school identification cards, classroom seating charts, athletic rosters, yearbook entries, diplomas, directory information,” read the policy.
Under the policy, students will be allowed to use the restroom that corresponds to their gender identity that they assert at school. Students will be given access to an alternative restroom if requested. Locker room access will be assessed on a case-by-case basis, the policy says, and separate changing areas will be available.
Transgender students under the new policy will have access to more opportunities in sports, too.
“The district will provide all students, including transgender and gender-expansive students, the opportunity to participate in physical education and athletic programs/opportunities in a manner that is consistent with their gender identity,” the policy reads.
Students are still expected to dress within the constraints of the dress code. In any other school activity involving separation of gender, a student will be allowed to participate in accordance with their gender identity. The school also cannot place restrictions on how students dress in the context of their gender expression.