GLEN ROCK, NJ - It was a move that incited applause and winsome smiles from the Glen Rock Board of Education.
On Tuesday, Sept. 10, the board positively swept a motion to introduce a new policy – “Gender Identity and Expression” – on first reading. An adoption is slated for Tuesday, September 24 and the policy is anticipated to go into full effect by October 1.
“All our individual policies reflected the fact that we would not discriminate or separate anyone because of gender identity,” explained Trustee and policy liaison Rona McNabola. “We as a board have respected those rights through the actions we’ve taken and all this does is put them in one place.”
The policy is in-line with New Jersey legislation, which mandates schools’ programs, activities, and employment practices be devoid of discrimination of any child, including sexual orientation, gender identity and expression. According to the policy, the chief school administrator will address concerns posed by students with gender identity or expression, as well as their parents or guardians in order to participate in the educational planning and programing of the student. The policy, which will aim to achieve a “safe learning environment” free of discrimination and harassment, will include locker- and restroom use, field trips and classrooms.
“I know this has been a conversation for at least every year I’ve been on the board, so finally it’s coming to fruition, so I’m happy for that,” said Board Member Bryon Torsiello.
The eight-page policy addresses Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying procedures, in addition to Confidentiality and Privacy, School Accommodations, which include the usage of names and pronouns, sports participation, restroom and locker room accessibility, dress code, privacy regarding their gender identity, and resources for transitioning students. Under the Bullying clause, students, either victims or bystanders, are encouraged to report a bullying incident to a staff member, who will immediately report the incident to the school principal. An HIB investigation by the district will then ensue, concluding with the anti-bulling specialist who will notify parents or guardians of all involved students.
Under Privacy, students have a right to choose the amount of information about their gender identity and expression they wish to divulge to anyone. Trained school personnel will work with the student, parents and guardians on a plan to inform and educate the student’s peers.
Under Official Records, a separate record can be kept for students who have legally changed their name or gender identity, provided they submit documentation of either a court order or birth certificate with their new name and/or legal gender.
Grace Mauceri, a mother of a Glen Rock High School Student who is a transgender boy, helped create the policy with members of the administration and Superintendent Brett Charleston.
“My son Eli is a transgender kid in the Glen Rock School system,” she told the board before the unanimous vote. “When he entered Hamilton, he was still identifying as a girl, but the complicated journey of him coming to understand his gender identity, that started when he was a toddler, continued to unfold in his early years there. I was lucky to have Irene Pierides, Hamilton’s principal, go on this journey with him. We had many conversations and found ways to make things work at school for Eli, and all the children of Hamilton as well.”
Mauceri said her son found a “safe place” at Hamilton Elementary, and made the decision in the fifth grade to “socially transition” as a boy, changing his name and pronouns.
“The approach was collaborative and the focus was on education, inclusivity and understanding,” she said. “Eli’s transition at school went better than any that I have heard of, and I have heard of many. His positive experience has carried on through middle school and into high school. He has never been bullied or teased for his gender identity. He is allowed to be a full member of the Glen Rock community and the community at large. He is not marginalized; he is thriving.”
Mauceri added that having a policy in place safeguards what she calls the district’s “most vulnerable” students.
“Gender variant kids who are supported at school are less likely to engage in self-harm, they have higher GPAs, they show up to school more, they have higher graduation rates, and they are able to see a future that is bright for themselves. This is only good for all of us,” she said.
While no one from the public commented on the policy, trustees gave their nods of approval. Board Member Sanjiv Ohri said he’s known two families who have had a transgender child who did not have any difficulties among their peers during their time in the district.
“I believe that having a policy defines us as a town and a district in the best possible way,” said Mauceri. “It sets a courageous and energetic tone. It sends a message about who we are. That message is one of welcome and inclusivity and support. It sets a tone that Glen Rock is a place that truly cares about the safety and well being of all its students.”
The policy is available to view on glenrocknj.org.