What makes Highland Park’s transgender policy so progressive?
HIGHLAND PARK — In what is being touted as one of the most progressive transgender student policies in New Jersey, the Highland Park Board of Education will likely pass a plan at its Monday meeting that will offer students access to any bathroom, locker room or sports team based on their declared gender identity.
Update: The policy passed unanimously, as expected.
In the school’s information system, students will be able to input their preferred name and gender pronouns to appear on report cards, absence announcements and lunch information.
The policy also will protect a student's privacy by not automatically calling parents or guardian to disclose the student’s preferred gender.
“There might be unfortunate circumstances in which a student hasn’t said anything to their father or mother or guardian,” Superintendent Scott Taylor said. “You never know how people are going to react.”
Above all, Taylor said, the policy will give students the right to determine their gender — without having to convince administrators.
“Our policy says, ‘If you come to us and you are identifying yourself as a male or female, that’s what we are gonna go with,’” Taylor said.
Over the summer, psychologist and co-author of the policy Stephanie Sasso will offer professional development for school leaders on how provide a safe environment for transitioning students. Teachers returning in the fall will receive training as well.
Although Taylor can count on one hand the number of transgender students in the Highland Parks School District, he said, that doesn’t mean these students should be ignored.
At least one Highland Park Middle School student agrees. Eighth-grader Anya Saint Martin read aloud a letter she wrote to the board in support of the policy at its May 16 meeting. She presented a petition with signatures she gathered in support of the policy and spoke of the discrimination transgender people face.
The district has received a few calls from concerned parents, Taylor said.
“One resident was concerned his daughter might not feel comfortable in the bathroom,” Taylor said. “Another objected on philosophical grounds to the need to support and protect transgender children.”
Still, Taylor said, he hopes the policy will not only help transgender students, but also “kids who are different.”
“We anticipate that some folks outside of Highland Park will see this as a supportive environment and tolerant community,” he said.
On Monday morning, Congressman Frank Pallone Jr. and state officials gathered on the steps of Highland Park High School to express support for the policy.
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