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Committee contemplates East Aurora transgender policy

AnitLewis East Aurorschool board Secretary speaks committee members 417 Fifth Street AurorIL Thursday November 08 2012 | Sean King~For Sun-Times

Anita Lewis East Aurora school board Secretary speaks to committee members at 417 Fifth Street in Aurora, IL on Thursday, November 08, 2012 | Sean King~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 9, 2012 4:32PM

Teachers, community members, school board members, religious leaders and youth advocates created their own round table Thursday night in East Aurora, ready to make strides to better serve the students of the East Aurora School District.

Following controversy in the wake of a recently rescinded policy regarding transgender and gender non-conforming students, the school board created an Ad Hoc committee to study the issue and make a decision that will best address policy and procedure of the district.

Experts on transgender and gender non-conforming students included Sara Schreiber, policy director for the Illinois Safe School Alliance, as well as Crystal Gray, who was the state of Colorado’s transgender advocate. They brought their expertise to the table on Thursday, sharing statistics and personal stories of the effects of bullying and discrimination of transgender youth.

“Being transgender is not easy,” said Gray, who has transitioned from male to female herself. She said the attendance, grade point average and self esteem of trans students tends to plummet, while suicide risks rise.

“(Transgender) youth and teens are on a collision course to not be productive members of society,” if they are not handled with care, she said.

Because of this, it is important that policies and procedures are in place to accommodate their needs. Currently, the district handles scenarios of transgender identifying students on a case by case basis.

Experts have said it is imperative to have something permanent and on the books so each situation is handled in a similar fashioned.

Anti-bullying policies, while necessary, do not go far enough to rectify this problem, Schreiber said.

“If we only pass those (anti bullying policies), we won’t have done our job,” she said. “We need a set of procedures like the ones the board did pass so we can best support our students.”

For school board and committee member Stella Gonzalez, this idea is key.

“Our priority is our kids. We need to defend them, direct them and be there for them,” Gonzalez, who was out of the country when the policy was rescinded last month, said. She said she was shocked when she returned to an email inbox filled with more than 1,000 emails addressing the issue.

“We have been the focus of an issue that transcends the boundaries of our district,” said district attorney Bernie Weiler. “We’re breaking ground in Illinois with regards to this issue.”

But, board member and committee chairman Anita Lewis said, the answer isn’t going to come over night. After rushing into their decision to pass a policy that raised eyebrows across the country, Lewis said board members are determined to get it right this time around.

”People are going to be watching what we do. The better we do, the better it will be for our entire county,” she said. “You’re in this for the long haul… we’re not going to solve anything tonight.”

The committee will meet at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 29 at the school service center, 417 Fifth Street, Aurora. It will meet again, on Dec. 13.

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