Lakota school board votes against gender identity policy

A vote on a gender identity and expression policy drew a packed house Monday at the Lakota Local Schools board meeting.

Though some in attendance wore white in support of the policy, Lakota's Board of Education ultimately voted against it, with a 3-2 vote.

The proposed policy, policy 5000, is focused on transgender students.

It outlines how school staff members should respond to certain situations and states that discrimination and bullying against any student, including those who are transgender, is never acceptable.

The policy also indicates that school staff members should use proper names and pronouns when referring to students who are transgender.

The current proposal gives transgender students the right to use bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity as well.

You can read the proposed policy here.

Two of the board members who voted for the policy, Julie Shaffer and Ray Murray, said that it protects the safety of all students and gives teachers and other staff members guidelines when it comes to transgender students.

Shaffer said Monday that the policy is needed to create consistency across the district. Murray stated that board needs to approve it to take a stand.  

The three board members who voted no, President Ben Nibble, Vice President Todd Parnell and board member Lynda O'Connor, argued that the policy is full of legal issues and needs to be re-worked or even re-written.

Parnell said the board got a legal opinion that indicated the policy was not ready to be approved due to ambiguous language. He also said the policy was brought to the board three weeks ago, so he believes it was rushed.

Nibble told FOX19 NOW that if the policy is approved in the future, it would work on a case-by-case basis. At Monday's meeting, he suggested taking a closer look at the policy and getting more input and feedback from staff members and administrators.

When the board members voted on the policy Monday, they were voting on a third version of it.

The version of the policy that they initially discussed at the meeting had already been amended once. They voted to amend the policy a second time by removing a section of the proposal that talked about transgender students and access to locker rooms.

However, even after making that change, the board still voted no.

Fifteen people spoke about the policy at the board meeting. Thirteen spoke in favor of it, while two spoke out against it.

Supporters of the gender identity policy said it is an important step to give all students equal rights and to keep transgender students safe, while opponents have said the policy only focuses on a small group of people and doesn't represent the entire student population fairly.

The policy will likely come up again at a future meeting and is expected to be voted on again following revisions.

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