U-46 school board candidates debate transgender policy

  • Clockwise from upper left, Enoch Essendrop, Cody Holt, Veronica Noland, Donna Smith and Melissa Owens are running for three seats on the Elgin Area School District U-46 school board April 4.

    Clockwise from upper left, Enoch Essendrop, Cody Holt, Veronica Noland, Donna Smith and Melissa Owens are running for three seats on the Elgin Area School District U-46 school board April 4.

 
 
Updated 3/16/2017 1:21 PM

Candidates vying to lead Elgin-area schools debated a controversial transgender locker room access policy during a forum last week.

Board President Donna Smith of Hanover Park, and trustees Veronica Noland and Cody Holt, both of Elgin, face challengers Melissa Owens of Bartlett and Enoch Essendrop of Elgin, for three 4-year terms on the Elgin Area School District U-46 board. The election is April 4.

 

As of Sept. 6, the district has allowed a transgender middle school student to use the locker room and restroom corresponding with the person's gender identity. The number of transgender students in the district is unknown.

Holt, 25, a 2010 graduate of Larkin High School, said the current policy needs to be revisited.

"What we have right now is de facto boys allowed in girls bathrooms, if they so choose, and girls allowed in boys bathrooms, if they so choose," said Holt, who was elected in April 2015 to a 2-year term. "What we need to do is craft common sense student privacy guidelines that would serve the privacy and well-being of all of our students. We have to be compassionate to all the individuals involved."

At a February meeting, board members Holt, Jeanette Ward and Phil Costello sought to revisit the district's policy allowing transgender students access to restrooms and locker rooms not corresponding with their biological sex, but the idea was dismissed by a board majority.

Smith, 59, who has served on the board since 2001, said district officials make accommodations on a case-by-case basis, and the current policy doesn't automatically allow any student to access an opposite gender bathroom or locker room.

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"They did not just allow this student to have access to a locker room. They went through a process, did some research, thought through this very carefully and came up with guidelines that they could use to accommodate our transgender students," she said. "I think the guidelines are working right now and maybe at some point we have to revisit it and change a little bit."

Owens, 48, chairwoman of the U-46 Citizens' Advisory Council, said making accommodations for transgender students is no different from having special accommodations for students on individualized educational programs.

"When we make accommodations, it is a team effort," she said. "We have multiple people sitting around the table from teachers, to building administrators, social workers, parents, a doctor may be present just like in an IEP meeting ... these are not decisions that are made in a vacuum. I trust the administration and people sitting around the table can make appropriate decisions for students on a case-by-case basis."

Noland, 50, an alumna of the district's Hispanic Parent Leadership Institute, said district officials have not received any complaints from anyone at the school affected by the special accommodation for the transgender student.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"This is no more than that same narrow ideology witch hunt that is overtaking the conversation at our school board," said Noland, who first was elected in 2013. "We need to be focusing on educating all our students and protecting all our students, and our transgender students are equal to all the other students, and they need our protection in this case."

Essendrop, 19, a student at Providence Baptist College in Elgin, said the well-being, safety and privacy of all students should be safeguarded.

"The current practice of our school puts troubled students at the most risk by throwing them into an environment where their differences are most evident and where bullying is most likely to occur -- the bathrooms and the locker rooms," he added.

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