EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — A proposed school policy for transgender students divided the township last winter before the Board of Education killed the measure.
One high school senior is pushing for the board to revisit the topic, and she hopes to have allies when the board reorganizes with three new members in January.
At the school board meeting Tuesday, Nov. 14, Egg Harbor Township High School senior Emily McGrath congratulated the three candidates who were successful in the Nov. 7 election, and said she hopes they will reconsider a school policy on transgender students.
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“Hopefully now, come January, we’ll be able to discuss a policy to protect transgendered students,” she said during the public comment portion of the meeting. “If we could get that done before you guys are done your terms, that would be awesome as well, but I don’t think that will happen, unfortunately.”
Two incumbents lost their seats in the election, and a third decided not to seek re-election.
In November 2016 the board approved 8-1 on first reading a policy that would included allowed transgender students to have access to the restrooms that correspond to their gender identity.
The measure was met with opposition from parents, community members and some religious organizations, and heated arguments played out at school board meetings, on social media and in local newspapers.
Others defending the policy, arguing that it offered students protection from bullying and ostracizing.
After the final vote was delayed several times, the board tabled the policy "indefinitely" in February.
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The policy covered the use of restrooms, locker rooms and changing areas, but also allowed for the use of a student’s preferred pronoun and name. Some of these issues are already a matter of state law or covered under the federal Title IX.
After the meeting, McGrath said her concerns go beyond where an individual uses a bathroom. She said the policy would have offered protection for students, including guidance for teachers in dealing with transgender students.
McGrath said she had a close friend who is transgender who graduated last year, and since the vote in February she has been a regular presence at the board meetings, advocating for the policy.
“I was sitting next to him when they voted no, and the look on his face really hit me,” she said after the meeting. “As a part of the LGTB community, it’s my responsibility to fight. Even if they don’t align with where I am in the community, it’s so important to fight for everyone in the community.”
Michelle CarneyRay-Yoder, who received the most votes in the election, attended the school board meeting, but afterward would not say whether or not she would support revisiting the policy.
“I still don’t even know my roles and responsibilities yet. Training is on Dec. 5,” CarneyRay-Yoder said.
“But as a school administrator, I know how important policy is, and regulations, to drive what we do,” she said. “I’m interested to hear the position of the board.”
CarneyRay-Yoder is a principal and director of special education in Margate.
The two other successful candidates, Amy Summer and Tamika Gilbert, were not at the meeting. Attempts to contact them were unsuccessful.