TREMONT — The school committee here is discussing whether transgender students are adequately accounted for and protected under existing school policies, or whether a new policy should be drafted.
The committee discussed the issue at the Tremont Consolidated School during a regular meeting on Nov. 8.
This week, the Pemetic Elementary School’s committee will also discuss the topic of a transgender policy within the school.
All policies for the district are approved by the AOS91 District Board. There is a Policy Committee in place that is in charge of creating, updating and vetting policies that are then presented to the district board for approval.
Prompted by a former school board member, the conversation about a transgender policy is expected to be brought before each of the local school committees for feedback and suggestions.
Superintendent Marc Gousse explained in an interview with the Islander.
“Some would argue our policy on harassment and discrimination would blanket all topics,” said Gousse. “We’re trying to cultivate understanding and awareness … This is a topic where we want to hear from parents and staff and make recommendations accordingly.”
Within the current district policies regarding harassment and discrimination there is no mention of gender identity of students or staff. The policies outline sexual orientation, race, color, religion, sex, disability, ancestry or national origin, genetic information and age, but no gender identity.
“I can understand where some people may struggle around this,” Gousse said during the Tremont School Committee meeting. “This is our attempt to be proactive, not reactive.”
Support for such a policy was heard from the four committee members present and one member asked that any policy created not only focus on facilities but also on awareness and education.
“I hope the policy can be focused on culture as well,” said Andrew Simon, a member of the school committee.
As a co-founder of the Barn Arts Collective, he works with artists to create a space where they can be comfortable regardless of their gender identity.
“This is an issue today and something we can all be considerate of,” Simon said at the meeting.
Maine is one of 18 states in the country where it is illegal to discriminate against someone based on their gender identity.
In 2014, Nicole Maines, a transgender student in the Orono school district won a lawsuit citing discrimination.
Maines, who was born a boy and identifies as a girl, was not allowed to use the restroom of the gender she identified with at her elementary school. She was instead asked to use a staff restroom to avoid conflict. The court case marked the first time a state’s highest court ruled that a transgender person has the right to use the restroom of the gender with which they identify.
“I do think we have the ability with the facilities in our building to have a gender neutral bathroom,” Tremont Principal Jandrea True said in the meeting. “I think there are some simple ways to be able to accommodate all.”
Clara Baker is the mother of a transgender child who attends Pemetic Elementary School. Throughout her child’s time at the school using facilities that correspond with the gender he identifies with has not been an issue, she said. But creating a supportive environment with students and staff is an ongoing process.
“He’s always known who he was,” Baker said about one of her four children. “We didn’t know until he could tell us… The hard thing for these children is they are having this experience that nobody shares.”
Over the last few years, Baker has immersed herself in communities and organizations supporting those questioning or coming to terms with accepting their gender identity. She served on the board of Downeast GLESN, whose mission is “to create safe and affirming schools for all, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.”
In 2015, Baker also worked with Healthy Acadia to create and organize the event, Transgender Health and Well Being, A Community Conversation, which she said attracted 500 people.
Baker said she and her family are still educating themselves on how to provide a consistent environment of support for their son and sibling.
“He’s pushing us to deal with our phobia,” she said. “It should be about trans people speaking for themselves… It’s not their job to educate the world.”