East Aurora School Board spares district official responsible for transgender policy

Annette Johnson (center), president of the East Aurora School Board, Oct. 19. Photo: Tony Merevick.

AURORA, Ill. — The board of East Aurora School District 131 unanimously voted Monday to take no action against a district official, who originally recommended the district adopt a groundbreaking transgender student protections policy the board unanimously voted to approve Oct. 14 — and then repealed it five days later in a dust-up of controversy.

The special meeting was held to discuss possibly terminating the official, despite community outrage over such an action, according to the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance, an organization that advocates for the safety and equal treatment of LGBT students.

Last month, the district came under intense fire from conservative citizens and organizations from in and outside of the far west suburban city, including the Illinois Family Institute, less than a day after the board approved the policy. In the midst of the deluge of criticism, Dr. Christie Aird, the district’s assistant superintendent of secondary education was indefinitely put on administrative leave after she suggested the policy back in July.

Board president Annette Johnson said at a previous board meeting that Aird did not fully explain the implications and controversial nature of the policy before they took it up for vote.

However, despite the district’s efforts to punish Aird, the community has been largely outspoken in its support for both her and the protective policies, which would have allowed transgender and gender-variant students to use the bathrooms that match their identified gender and ask teachers to use their chosen names.

Six people spoke on behalf of Aird for about 15 minutes before the board at the start of the special meeting. The board then entered an over hour-long executive session to make its decision, resulting in the monthly board meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. to start late, according to Shannon Sullivan of the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance.

The Alliance has worked with the district for over a year to put policies in place to protect transgender and gender-variant students after receiving a request for action from a family there. The Alliance was supportive of the board’s initial decision to approve the policy and was equally surprised when it decided to rescind it and possibly terminated Aird.

“To say that our shock continues is a real understatement,” Sullivan said in a statement to media. “This school board is using one of their own employees as a scapegat [sic] because they caved to hate-motivated outside pressure. We will continue to support local residents to support Dr. Aird and the policies to protect transgender and gender non-conforming students.”

As Sullivan understands, Aird’s job could still be on the chopping block, pending further consideration from the board and its attorneys.

Last week, the board announced that it is building an ad hoc special committee of community members to draft up a new “inclusive policy” that apparently will offer the same or similar protections for transgender students. A special meeting to announce the committee and discuss the policy will be held Thursday at 6 p.m.