BALLSTON SPA – The Ballston Spa Central School District’s year-old student gender identity policy has been getting a lot of attention recently.
Earlier this week, a number of parents and community members spoke out about the district’s policy either online or during Wednesday’s Board of Education meeting.
The board’s members heard comments from a number of individuals who did not want the district to adopt policies allowing students who are transgender or gender nonconforming to use the bathrooms, locker rooms, or be on the sports teams corresponding with their gender identity.
While the board had recently adopted some revisions to its gender identity policy, it has been in place for over a year.
A statement from Board of Education President Jason Fernau sent to district families and posted to the school district’s website addresses some of the comments recently made. It reads:
“Unfortunately, some parents and members of our community have been promoting an out-of-date and harmful narrative that our transgender students are a danger to other students, both on social media and at the Board of Education meeting on August 3, 2022.
“At the meeting, the Board took actions to ensure that our District policies and practices offer protections to the civil rights and safety for all students and staff that align with Federal and State law.
“The Board of Education and the District remain committed to a focus on students, and providing the best possible learning environment for all our students and the best possible working environment for all our staff.”
Ballston Spa CSD community relations coordinator Stuart Williams explained that the board did approve a revision of the existing policy during a recent meeting, adding that the revision did not change any of the parameters in the original policy.
The policy revision approved at the Aug. 3 board meeting was to update nomenclature to align with recent changes in state law regarding gender identity (reference NYS Gender Recognition Act) according to the district’s website. The revision approved did not modify any language in regards to use or access of bathrooms or locker rooms.
The Board of Education first approved its gender identity policy at a June 2, 2021 meeting. The resolution was opposed by one member, Mike O’Donnell, and approved by the other five board members who were present, according to minutes from the meeting.
An online petition written by Ballston Spa CSD parent Jason Savaria opposes the district’s policy. As of Friday afternoon, the petition had received over 170 signatures.
“I was just trying to bring attention to it and try and motivate people to show up and just speak their piece,” Savaria said. “I didn’t want people to be violent, I didn’t want people to go in there and speak poorly of trans kids or the LGBTQ community or anything like that. That’s not what the intention was. The intention was that this policy protects no child, it doesn’t protect the trans kids, it doesn’t protect the cis-gender kids, it doesn’t protect the teachers or the school resource officer and it doesn’t protect the property itself. These kids are at a breaking point.”
Savaria said when the policy was voted on last year, families residing in the school district were not informed. While he explained the school district sends parents emails when a bus is late or when there is a snow day, he said it did not send an email when it changed the policy.
“We shouldn’t be forcing our personal ideologies down other people’s throats, it’s something that should be dictated by the community in a public forum,” Savaria said. “All we wanted to do was talk about it and come to a proper resolution. And these policies seem like a knee-jerk reaction to a very complicated issue. The community was not given a voice.”
The majority of the people want to talk and come to a resolution about this and are not transphobic or homophobic, Savaria said.
“We don’t want to feel like our voice is being thrown out into the wind,” Savaria said. “We just want to sit down and talk and come up with a plan that protects all of the kids, all of the staff, the school resource officer. And we pay our taxes to keep up the building because we don’t want our schools destroyed by kids that are just angry and confused. There’s a better way: If we just sit down and talk, I know we can come to a better alternative than this policy.”
Savaria suggested having an all-gender bathroom in addition to the girls’ and boys’ bathrooms, or having single-use bathrooms as a possible alternative for the policy.
Based on the current policy in place at Ballston Spa CSD, which can be found on the district’s website, when a transgender student has not felt comfortable using a bathroom/locker room consistent with their cisgender (assigned sex at birth), then the District has provided and encouraged the use of a safe and adequate alternative single-occupancy bathroom/changing room. The website also states the option to use an alternative single occupancy bathroom/changing room is something that is available to all students, regardless of their gender identity.
The district’s website also states that during the 2021-2022 school year, requests were made by transgender students to use the alternative single- occupancy bathroom/changing room option; transgender students did not ask to use the male/female bathrooms or locker rooms.
In addition, a transgender student may request and be allowed access to the male/female bathrooms or locker rooms that are in alignment with their gender expression. This choice is governed by the school policy, which in turn is governed by both New York state and Federal laws. If any cisgender student is uncomfortable with this situation (e.g. cisgender female does not want to share locker room with transgender female), then the cisgender student is afforded the same protection to a safe and adequate alternative single-occupancy bathroom/changing room.
The district website states, “The purpose of this policy and its implementation/practice in the District is to protect ALL students and foster a safe and supportive educational environment.”