RFSD adds gender identity to nondiscrimination policy

New Roaring Fork School District logo

National media attention around gender equality issues sparked by a controversial transgender law in North Carolina has prompted the Roaring Fork School District to add a new qualifier to its nondiscrimination policy.

“I’m upset that this issue has been framed around bathrooms, instead of being focused on kids struggling with identity,” Rob Stein, chief academic officer and incoming superintendent for the district, said during a recent school board meeting, referring to the North Carolina law blocking cities in that state from allowing transgender individuals to use public restrooms for the gender with which they identify.

The school board unanimously agreed to add “gender identity” to the list of circumstances that are covered under the policy, alongside race, color, national origin, ancestry, creed, religion, disability, special needs, marital status, sex and sexual orientation.

“I think it’s important that we acknowledge as a district that we don’t discriminate around gender issues,” Stein said. “We do have transgender students and students who are undergoing a gender transition in Roaring Fork schools.”

By including a statement of support for transgender students and staff, it shows that the district is sensitive to issues of gender identity and how young people in particular can feel alienated at a fragile time in their lives, he said.

As for bathrooms, that’s not an issue for RFSD schools in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt, Superintendent Diana Sirko noted at the May 25 board meeting.

All buildings in the district have private, single-occupancy unisex bathrooms available that can be used by anyone, she said.

School board member Daniel Biggs, attending his last meeting before stepping down due to a move out of his director district, supported the policy addition but said it’s unfortunate that the policy needs to list every circumstance that will not be discriminated against.

“It should say ‘we don’t discriminate,’ period,” he said.

Board President Mary Elizabeth Geiger noted that most of what’s on the list comes from federal requirements regarding nondiscriminatory practices. The policy applies to students, employees, applicants for employment and any member of the public.

The North Carolina law in question has since been challenged by the U.S. Justice Department, prompting countersuits by state officials.

Stein said that, in addition to new guidelines regarding policies and practices for transgender students issued earlier this month by the U.S. Department of Education, the Colorado Association of School Boards is also working on model policies for Colorado school districts to consider.

“After those become available, we can determine what additional policies relating to gender identity might be necessary,” he said.

Since the issue came to the forefront this spring, the National School Boards Association and the National Education Association in conjunction with a coalition of civil rights organizations have also public reports and suggested guidelines regarding gender equality.

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