Roaring Fork school board readies for more LGBTQ+ comments, considers resolution supporting nonconforming students

Students, parents, teachers and other members of the public packed the Sept. 28 Roaring Fork District school board meeting when an LGBTQ+ and gender expansive toolkit was discussed.
John Stroud/Post Independent

Another long list of speakers awaits the Roaring Fork School District board Wednesday evening, as critics and supporters alike rally over the district’s new “toolkit” supporting transgender and gender expansive/nonconforming students.

The Board of Education at its regular meeting in Carbondale is set to consider a formal resolution in support of LGBTQ+ students.

The board heard a presentation from district student and family services staff on the toolkit at its Sept. 28 meeting, after which numerous people spoke, mostly in support of the directives, but some opposed.

The toolkit is aimed at giving students and staff resources to help support gender-nonconforming students, such as honoring personal pronouns and other preferences.

Board action was not required on the toolkit itself, but with more written comments in the meantime and others expected to offer their thoughts at Wednesday’s meeting, the board decided to put forward a formal resolution on the matter.

The proposed resolution cites district policy, as well as federal and state laws and constitutional provisions that prohibit discrimination against students and staff or any reason, including sexual orientation and gender identity.

“The (board) recognizes that transgender, gender expansive and LGBTQ+ students are more isolated, feel less supported, and are more subject to bullying and ostracism than any other group of students, and LGBTQ+ students are more at risk of depression, suicide, and harassment than any other population,” it states. “The (board) affirms that we have a moral duty as a school district to improve our inclusion of marginalized students and to ensure their well being and that we should work to respect each individual’s worth and dignity, and to teach our students to live and work well together in a diverse society.”

The board expects to hear from critics of the district’s stance, including Jim Tarr, the pastor of the Cornerstone church in Basalt. Tarr and some of his church members have expressed concerns about policies that they say can cause gender confusion for young people, and that allow transgender students to use the restrooms and locker rooms of their choice and participate in sports.

Several supporters of the toolkit and followup resolution are also expected to speak. They’ve also organized a tailgate rally in the parking lot outside the District Offices in Carbondale before the meeting.

“Denouncing misinformation and showing support for our students is crucial for the health and well-being of all our students,” organizer Andrea Chacos said in an email to supporters encouraging them to join the rally.

The proposed board resolution notes that the board “recognizes that we are in a moment of rapid societal change.”

“District students, teachers and administration are telling us they are confused about changing mores regarding gender and gender identity, and that laws are also changing alongside society’s growing awareness,” it states.

The toolkit is designed to address some of that confusion, it states.

Also Wednesday, the board is to consider a new regulatory policy regarding public participation at meetings.

Currently, the board allows people to sign up to speak on a first-come, first-served basis, limiting people to three minutes and allotting no more than 45 minutes during meetings for public comment.

The new policy establishes eligibility priority whenever there are more people signed up to speak than time allows. It gives priority to students and parents of students enrolled in the district first, followed by district employees, residents of the district and then other school district constituents.

Priority would also be given to speakers who intend to address an item on that meeting’s agenda, and to speakers who haven’t already addressed the board on a given topic. The board president would reserve the right to determine the order of priority for speakers, under the new policy proposal.

The school board meeting is set to begin at 6:15 p.m. at the District Office, 400 Sopris Ave., Carbondale. Public comment is queued up for 6:55 p.m., followed by discussion and decisions on several district policies and revisions.

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