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Residents urge local voices be heard on East Aurora transgender policy

Special meeting

The East Aurora School Board has called a special meeting to discuss possibly rescinding policies on rights of transgender students adopted earlier this week.

The meeting will be at 5:30 p.m. Friday at the East Aurora School Service Center, 417 Fifth St., Aurora.

Updated: November 20, 2012 11:14AM

When asked how she felt about the East Aurora School Board’s pending decision to repeal its new policy addressing the rights of transgender students, Robyn Schmidt ran out of words to use.

“I need my thesaurus,” she said on Thursday, a day after the board announced it would have a special meeting today to vote to rescind the newly established policy.

“I’ve used the word disheartened, disappointed, enraged, and floored—it’s hard to come up with enough words.”

Schmidt, a resident of the East Aurora School District, felt much differently several days prior when the board unanimously approved a policy that addressed the needs and rights of transgendered students.

“I’ve worked with teenagers about this issue, and it just seemed like the policy was doing the right thing and addressing it well,” she said. “As a taxpayer, I need to know that the kids in the schools are protected and given an environment where they can learn.”

The influx of e-mails that have landed in board members’ inboxes as a result of Monday’s vote to approve a policy on transgender students are likely coming from outside the district, she said. And School Board President Annette Johnson agreed that that was likely the case.

After The Illinois Family Institute publicized a letter addressing the district, and asking for the repeal of the policy, Johnson said the e-mail started flowing in.

“This is a biased, radical, and offensive school board decision that all Illinois taxpayers should vigorously and tenaciously oppose,” the organization said in a letter addressing East Aurora.

Schmidt called on local residents to attend the meeting and challenge the outside comments.

“We, the local people, have to show up (at the special meeting) on Friday and say that this does not represent us,” Schmidt said.

Sandra Conti, a mental health therapist and mother of a transgender student in the neighboring Indian Prairie School District, agreed.

“I live in Aurora. I’m not in their district, but I’m in their town and their community,” she said.

Conti said she will be at today’s meeting — scheduled for 5:30 p.m. at the School Service Center, 417 Fifth St. — to express her local concerns.

“When I saw they approved the policy I thought, ‘Wow. That’s great. These policies are so helpful to kids,’” Conti said.

The decision to repeal the policy could have devastating effects, she said.

“Reversing this policy is like saying, ’Oops, you don’t really matter.’” Conti said.

In the Indian Prairie School District, while there are no specific policies in place geared toward the transgendered, there is a policy that states that the district should respect all, she said. “It gives us openness to formulate what is needed.”

Using that policy as a springboard, Conti’s child was given a private bathroom, and the opportunity to be called by a name he identifies with.

“My district has implemented its own policy and I’ve found it to be nothing but refreshing and helpful,” she said.

She added that when her child came out and started working with the school to accommodate his life change, the world around him opened.

“It’s been night and day,” Conti said. “He goes out and speaks, holds his head up, it’s been a complete turnaround. Let’s tell these kids they matter. Let’s keep the policy and just move forward—stand tall and keep moving.”

Before the board vote today, the public will be allowed to comment on the policy which states that transgendered and gender non-conforming students have the right use the restroom that corresponds to their gender-related identity.

In most cases, transgendered students should have access to the locker room that corresponds to their gender-related identity, according to the policy. Classes or teams that are segregated by gender should also be open to students according to the gender that the student self-identifies with.

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