Frequently Asked Questions and our responses:
Q) Does the gender identity policy take away my rights as a parent or my child’s privacy rights?
No. Parental and privacy rights are a matter of law, not board policy. In fact, the policies the WCS board passed in November actually highlight the rights of parents to information and the rights of kids to privacy. Policy 8011 states, “School officials must consider the health, safety, and well-being of the student, as well as the responsibility to keep parents informed.” Policy 9260 states, “WCS staff will work with the student to find an alternative that takes into account the privacy rights of all students, staff, and visitors. The Board directs administration to incorporate single-user facilities and measures to ensure greater privacy into new construction or renovation. The Board also directs administration to assess ways to increase privacy for all students in existing facilities.”
For a more detailed response regarding the ¨and/or¨ language in policy 8011, please click here.
Q) Did the board mislead the public during this process?
No. These policies were the result of committee and board work that was completely transparent and fully in compliance with the Open Meetings Act.
Policy 8011 provides two legal references that were used in the creation of the policy. Legal References: Title IX, Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. 1681 et seq.; Title VII, Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000e, et seq.; Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, MCL 37.2101, et seq. Neither policy that was passed states that these policies were mandated by state/federal law.
Additionally, the public was an integral part of the passage of these policies. We responded to public comment, letters to the board, and individual conversations with community members.
Q) What does the law have to say about policy 8011?
Compliance with the law is a priority of the WCS Board of Education. Protecting the rights of students and parents is a priority of the WCS Board of Education. Gender Identity Policy 8011 was thoroughly reviewed during its development by legal counsel. Gender Identity Policy 8011 will ensure that WCS staff will respond to the needs of students whose gender identity differs from their biology thoughtfully and consistently. Williamston Community Schools will accept and support students regardless of their gender identity and will ensure that all students enjoy their legally protected rights to privacy while prioritizing the rights of parents to raise their children. By making sure students know they will be accepted regardless of their gender identity, this policy makes it less likely that parents will lose a child to suicide or runaway. This policy does not limit or take away the rights of any student in our schools.
Q) Don’t these policies protect groups that are already protected by other existing policies?
No. The policies in question are not anti-bullying policies, nor do they fall under the existing Equal Education Opportunity Act. Our gender identity policy will enable WCS staff to respond consistently and thoughtfully should a student identify as transgender or gender nonconforming. The response as dictated by this policy will involve three action steps. Step one is to accept the gender identity the student asserts. Steps two and three are simply to ask how the district may support the student’s needs (“customize support”) while keeping parents informed. Policy 9260 allows ANY child that is feeling uncomfortable using district facilities to ask for privacy.
Q) Didn’t the board fail to represent the wishes of the community?
No. Public input was welcomed during several full board and policy committee meetings and was also submitted through email. Furthermore, the concerns of the public are clearly and directly reflected in the final versions of the policies that were voted on.
Many community members expressed concern for bullying more generally and indicated they wanted to see that issue addressed. Within the past several months, the board voted to approve the implementation of the Be Nice program which is designed to reduce bullying and improve student mental health by empowering students to support one another. The board also approved the hire of a school psychologist and social worker to better support the emotional well-being of our students.
All the questions and concerns community members have expressed regarding these policies would need to be answered even without a policy in place. Not having a policy does not mean the issue will go away anymore than getting rid of special education policies would reduce the need for special education services. Our policies simply make sure that everyone (students, staff, parents, community members) knows how these concerns will be addressed in Williamston Community Schools
Q) Isn’t recall the only option available for residents who oppose the board’s actions?
No. Recall is a Constitutionally protected right but is not the only course of action citizens have when they disagree with a board action. Our terms are up in either two (Nancy and Greg) or four years (Chris and Sarah) and if at that time our policies turned out to be wrong for our students, voters would have the opportunity to choose new board members. We are not being accused of misconduct and have consistently behaved ethically and thoughtfully. We simply voted to pass two policies that some members of the community oppose.
Q) Didn’t the board members facing a recall election stall the process?
No. Since January, individuals affiliated with a group against the policies submitted dozens of petitions to recall us over a six month period. In order for petitions to be approved, they merely have to be deemed “factual and clear” by the 3 person Ingham County Election Commission. Despite this low standard, only three petitions were ever approved by the commission. One of those was ruled to be neither factual nor clear on appeal. During this process, the Ingham County Election Commission repeatedly provided clear guidance for what these individuals should do to get language approved, but the individuals submitting petitions failed time after time to meet the “factual and clear” standard. During each step in this process we exercised our due process rights and have fought to maintain our seats on the board. We are honored to serve and intend to continue in our roles as board members.
Q) Didn’t the Board Members end up costing taxpayers $30,000 to sue the Ingham County Election Commission?
No. While this number was sent to Williamston homes on a mailer, it appears to be completely fabricated. As the mailer was paid for with dark money, it is difficult to verify where it came from or how it was calculated. No district resources were used by board members to fight the recall effort.
Just like the people bringing forth recall language have the constitutional right to recall elected officials, people being targeted for recall have the right to challenge a ruling and to appeal that ruling to a higher court. In January 2018, we challenged the ruling of the Ingham County Election Commission that ruled 2-1 that language that was submitted was clear and factual. This challenge was made using personal, not public, resources. Upon appeal, the higher court found that the language was in fact not clear and factual and rescinded the Ingham County Election Commission decision. The lawyers for Ingham County are on salary with Ingham County and the work that they did was a part of their every day duty and thus the board members did not sue the Ingham County Election Commission, nor did they cost tax payers $30,000. In actuality, each time that the Ingham County Election Commission met people against this policy ended up costing taxpayers money as the Chief Judge received a stipend for each meeting and the County Treasurer had the ability to reimburse mileage. This is not to mention the time away from other important work for each of the Ingham County Clerk employees that attended each meeting.
Q) Did the current board run up a $41 Million Dollar Debt?
No. In fact, Williamston Community Schools are in their best financial position in at least a decade. We have reversed a trend of deficit spending and are adding to our surplus which will enable WCS to continue to offer the high quality educational experiences our community expects and deserves. Your school board and administrative staff take our fiduciary responsibilities very seriously. The schools do have a debt load that is similar to all schools in Ingham County due to the bonds that were used in the past to build the new Williamston High School among other projects over many years. The district is well ahead of schedule in meeting its 3 year financial goals.
Should you want to learn more about how the issue of gender identity has been handled in the judicial system, please click here.