Group Seeks to Make Watertown High School Safe for Transgender Students

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A group of Watertown High School students has requested that the School Committee add a school district policy for transgender and nonconforming students to make these students feel safe to attend the town’s schools. 

Transgender students do not feel comfortable at Watertown High School, said members of the Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) at WHS.

“A lot of it was the school culture,” said GSA President and WHS junior Jeremy Holt. “When we decided to put this in place the school culture was not open and accepting (of transgender and nonconforming students).”

As part of the new policy, they seek some changes to improve the atmosphere at the school. Some changes include creating gender-neutral bathrooms and locker rooms, teachers using the pronoun preferred by the student when addressing the student, and not telling parents what their preferred sexual identity until the student is comfortable telling them.

“The three main goals of the policy are to reduce stigmatization of transgender and gender nonconforming students, maintaining the privacy of all students and fostering cultural competence and professional development for school staff,” WHS junior and GSA member Kira Peterson told the School Committee on Monday night.

Junior Sara Fulton, secretary of the GSA, said these students have some rights already, including the First Amendment’s freedom of speech and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which keeps a student’s information private. This would apply to the students preferred pronoun, even with parents.

The policy reads:  “The fact that a student chooses to disclose his or her transgender status to staff or other students does not authorize school staff to disclose other medical information about the student. When contacting the parent or guardian of a transgender student, school staff should use the student’s legal name and pronoun corresponding to the student’s gender assigned at birth unless the student, parent, or guardian has specified otherwise.”

Holt said the group has been working on the policy for about a year. Watertown would be one of the first school districts to adopt a policy for transgender and nonconforming students.

Superintendent Jean Fitzgerald applauded the student’s policy.

“We had to get a policy and these young people did their homework,” Fitzgerald said.

School Committee member Mike Shepard said transgender students should feel physically and mentally safe at school.

“They should be able to get through the day without being hassled,” Shepard said.

School Committee members were impressed by the student’s work and the policy presented by the students and they supported the idea of having a policy for transgender and nonconforming students, but they also had some questions.

School Committee Chairman Eileen Hsu-Balzer wanted to make sure the district is allowed to keep information about a student’s preferred gender away from parents.

“What I want to know is if it puts the school district in legal jeopardy,” Hsu-Balzer said.

John Portz suggested the policy state what it would like to have occur, rather than what it hopes to eliminate.

“Transferring to another school is not the preferred way to handle this,” Portz said. “It says don’t do that, but not what we should do.”

Hsu-Balzer suggested creating a district procedure which would have the details of how the schools will approach the issue, and have the policy be more general.

“In other policies we state we must be in accordance with Mass. General law,” Hsu-Balzer said. “If the state changes the law we don’t have to change the policy.”

She said items in the procedure can be altered without having to come back to the School Committee.

The School Committee asked for the School Committee’s Policy Subcommittee to work on the policy and procedure and bring it back to be considered at a future School Committee meeting.

2 thoughts on “Group Seeks to Make Watertown High School Safe for Transgender Students

  1. I’m sorry, but this sort of thing is simply one more way for the LGBTQ lobby to flex its muscles.

    If it’s not some unnecessary anti-bullying program, it’s gay books for elementary schools students, a Day of Silence that intimidates traditionally minded students and families, and transgendered bathrooms and locker rooms. It never stops. It’s endless.

    Students are being brainwashed and intimidated from a young age by outside LGBTQ groups (and the media) into thinking all these things are necessary and desirable. Who says?
    And teachers, school administrators, and school committees are being bludgeoned by LGBTQ groups into submitting to this nonsense or face a torrent of criticism and threats.

    Are traditionally-minded organizations being allowed to present their side in the schools, or are the LGBTQ groups going to have a monopoly on free speech?

  2. I think Valerie has it right. This foolishness will never end until the local politicians just say “No, enough is enough!” This town has better ways to spend its time and money.

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