NEW LONDON - A petition that opposes a proposed transgender inclusion policy in the New London-Spicer School District was launched this week by a group calling itself NL-S Safe.
The group of concerned citizens believes the policy would be harmful to NLS students, said Gary Swenson, of Spicer, spokesman for the new organization. He served as moderator for a meeting of about 60 people Monday that resulted in the launch of the petition drive.
In an interview, Swenson said it’s hoped the petition - an online version is linked to the group’s Facebook page and paper copies are being circulated - will get the attention of NLS decision-makers.
“We’re hoping that it’ll alert the superintendent and the school board about the large number of people in the district that are upset with this policy,” Swenson said. “So far they don’t seem to recognize that fact.”
For the last couple months, the NLS School Board has been reviewing and revising a proposed gender inclusion policy that lays out procedures for addressing students in the district who are transgender or gender nonconforming.
School officials say the purpose of the policy is to provide a safe and discrimination-free learning environment for all students and to comply with applicable laws.
The proposed policy has undergone numerous changes since it was first brought to the board, in large part because of community feedback.
Concerns about the policy have come in the form of personal conversations and emails to school board members and Superintendent Paul Carlson, as well as an April 11 meeting when the board listened to public comments for more than 2½ hours.
More revisions were made after that meeting and the latest draft is being reviewed by the district’s attorney, Carlson said. It is expected to be available for public review by May 2 or 3.
“We do listen to people. The process is working,” said Carlson, adding that he’s not sure what action the board will take on the policy May 9.
The policy would provide a “consistent” framework of procedures for staff to implement with transgender students.
The component of the policy that has received the most attention - and opposition - pertains to transgender students using bathroom and locker facilities that align with their gender identity.
The district has several unisex bathrooms, but the policy would, for example, allow a student who was born as a female - but has made a long-term commitment to live as a boy - to use the boys’ facilities.
The same would be true for a student who was born as a male.
NL-S Safe “believes that many of the mandates in the policy constitute a violation of the values, the beliefs, the standards, and the mores of the vast majority of the members of this community,” Swenson said in a written news release.
Carlson said data privacy prevents him from explicitly answering questions about whether there are transgender students at NLS.
“We’re dealing with this for a reason. And I hope people would respect that,” Carlson said.
Although NLS is one of the few school districts in the state currently in the process of writing a policy, Carlson said a number of area schools have made changes to bathrooms and locker rooms to address the needs of transgender students.
In most cases, he said, the public isn’t aware of those changes. Having a policy, he said, made the process at NLS “transparent.”
But Swenson said NL-S Safe wants to “educate the public about the dangers” of the policy and wants the district to create a community task force to develop “a compromise that we could all live with.”
He said so far the board has made only “cosmetic changes” to the policy.
Carlson said there is a great deal of misinformation, about transgender students and about the policy, that he’s tried to resolve through one-on-one conversations with parents, grandparents and clergy who have contacted him.
Carlson said NLS students are responding to the issue maturely.
“It’s neat to hear our kids and see how respectful our kids are,” Carlson said. “It seems like some people are thinking about this every second of the day. Our kids aren’t, that’s for sure.”
Swenson also said there’s a lot of misinformation. He said members of NL-S Safe have done extensive research on the science of gender and the law regarding school transgender policies.
Swenson helped promote an April 18 event in Spicer about “gender fluidity” and “the harm of the transgender movement,” according to a promotional flier. About 60 people attended that event.
A comment on the NL-S Safe Facebook page called for a “no confidence” vote for Carlson and the group is encouraging people to run for school board to oust those “who have betrayed the trust of their constituents” that elected them.
The criticism stung Carlson.
“They don’t know the level of integrity I have,” he said. “And it’s hard because I love this school and I love this community.”
He said the board is taking its time to listen to people and review the policy before action is taken.
“It’s been a very difficult situation,” he said. “It’s hard to do the right thing.”