After flip-flop, East Aurora School Board forms committee for new transgender policy

East Aurora School Board, Oct. 19. Photo: Tony Merevick.

Following its controversial decision to rescind a policy that would have added protections for transgender and gender nonconforming students in its schools Oct. 19, the East Aurora School District announced Monday that it is forming a committee to work on an all new “inclusive policy.”

The School District 131 Board of Education is in the process of creating an ad hoc committee of community members and educators to address improvement of inclusiveness and anti-bullying policies and confront any issues of harassment and discrimination throughout the district, according to the announcement.

“Committee members will work to fundamentally impact the lives of our current and future students by establishing a policy that will serve as a safeguard against bullying and discrimination at all of our schools in East Aurora School District 131,” read a statement from the district. “The Ad Hoc Committee will work throughout the duration of the calendar year to formulate a policy that will be proposed to the Board of Education for implementation.”

Members of the new committee will be announced shortly before its first meeting, 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 8 at the School Service Center, 417 Fifth St. in Aurora. A schedule for future committee meetings will be determined at that time and all of those meetings will be open to the public, the district said.

“We at The Civil Rights Agenda are pleased that the School Board is making good on their commitment to work with the community on this policy and procedure change,” said The Civil Rights Agenda Executive Director Anthony Martinez, who along with several other organizations, lobbied the board to keep the policy in place.

“We are still committed to working with the board as this issue is addressed, and hope they will reinstate the protections that are so desperately needed for the transgender students in East Aurora,” he said.

The district urged Aurora community members who would like to share their suggestions for the policy to email info@d131.org or contact district spokesperson Clayton Muhammad at 630-299-5550.

Just two weeks prior to Monday’s announcement of the new committee, the East Aurora School Board unanimously voted to approve a measure that would have allowed transgender and gender nonconforming students to use restrooms, and in some cases, locker rooms that correspond with their consistently-presented gender identity and would ask teachers to refer to students by their chosen name.

In many respects, the policy was groundbreaking for the region and was met with praise from LGBT rights advocates and anti-bullying organizations throughout the area. However, it was also met by sharp criticism from conservative residents and organizations in and outside of the district, including the Illinois Family Institute, which labeled the policy as “biased, radical, and offensive.” The IFI itself, though, was branded an “anti-gay hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The barrage of criticism and the school board’s desire to reexamine the policy led it to unanimously vote to repeal the 5-day-old policy Oct. 19 at a special meeting held specifically to address the controversy. At the time, the board admitted to voting on the policy without considering its implications as a mere update to its existing codes — some of which were outdated by about 30 years, said Board President Annette Johnson.

Over 20 people spoke before the board at the meeting, the majority of whom asked that the district keep the policy in place. At least one person who spoke suggested that the board rescind the policy, but then open it up to the community to create a new one.

Before the vote, Johnson repeatedly suggested that it would do so in the form of a committee in the following weeks to create an entirely new policy that would address the same issues. They would also consider two other proposed policies, 715.11 and 500.08, which offer additional provisions that protect transgender and gender nonconforming students and personnel, at the next board meeting.

“I want the community to come together and work on this as a committee together,” Johnson said.

Chicago Phoenix will continue coverage of this story. More to come.