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East Aurora says anti-bullying policy safeguards transgender students

An large crowd fills board room spills over inhallway East AurorSchool Service Center for Monday night's (Dec. 17 2012) School

An large crowd fills the board room and spills over into the hallway at the East Aurora School Service Center for Monday night's (Dec. 17, 2012) School Board meeting. | Erika Wurst ~ Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 20, 2013 6:14AM

Following the pleas of nearly 30 district parents, East Aurora School Board members Monday night unanimously agreed to disband its Committee on transgender policy and stick with the broad anti-bullying policy.

The blanket policy prohibits the bullying of any student, regardless of his/her gender, sexual orientation, religion, economic status. Board members said the policy does a sufficient job addressing challenges faced by transgender students, and that the need for a more specific policy is unjustified.

Nearly 200 residents packed into the small board room and overflowed into the halls, eager to face board members and have their concerns heard.

“It’s enough. We don’t want this policy … put an end to it today,” said Pastor Edwin Ruiz, who was one of several local clergymen to speak out. “You are here to listen to this community, and do what they want to do.”

One after another, parents, siblings and students took to the podium to express their concerns about the proposed policy that would have allowed transgender students to use facilities including locker rooms and restrooms that relate to the specific gender they identify with. It would have also required teachers to address students by the pronoun the student identified with, as well.

In October, the board passed the policy, then quickly rescinded it, before forming the Ad Hoc Committee. The 22-person committee was formed to determine what policy — if any — should be implemented. The committee was made up of local clergymen, teachers, social workers, members of the transgender community, board members, residents and other concerned citizens. It had met twice.

“I urge the board to allow the Ad Hoc Committee to continue to do our work,” said Joanie Wimmer, of Downers Grove, who as a transgender woman herself was an advocate for the district’s transgender youth.

The audience, however, wasn’t concerned about what Wimmer had to say. They told board members that it should be up to the district’s residents, not outside sources, to determine what’s best for the students.

“You asked the community of Aurora for our input, now here we are,” said parent Ricardo Vasquez.

Several board members applauded audience members for coming together.

“This issued has certainly brought the parents out to speak,” School Board President Annette Johnson said. “I feel that we have gotten input now from parents, and our parents have come out and spoke. I’m really happy to have heard from parents. I urge you all to continue to speak up. I think it’s time to disband the committee. We have had input from parents.”

Other board members followed suit.

“Unfortunately, this committee has turned into more or less of a show … I think we have policies in place that discuss bullying … and I don’t see where moving forward with this Ad Hoc Committee is helping anybody,” Ad Hoc Committee chairwoman and board member Anita Lewis said.

As they consented to disband the committee, the audience erupted into applause.

“We are Aurora,” they shouted, waving their signs.

Student board member Miguel Sanchez hoped that parents return to the school board on other issues.

“I just want to remind all of you not to stop coming today. Please come back,” Sanchez said. “The education of your students is more than you think. Where they go to the bathroom will not determine where they go to college. Please come back and help your students graduate.”

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