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In split vote, Clark County school trustees approve controversial gender-diverse policy

Jackie Valley
Jackie Valley
EducationLocal Government

The Clark County School Board of Trustees approved a controversial gender-diverse policy Thursday night, ending more than a year of lengthy meetings and heated rhetoric.

The 4-3 vote came after dozens of community members testified, reiterating points voiced at previous public meetings: Proponents hail it as necessary to protect the rights of students who identify as transgender and shield them from discrimination. But opponents say it infringes on other children’s privacy and parental rights.

The eight-page policy will be used on a case-by-case basis when a student identifies as transgender, triggering creation of a “gender support plan” for the child. It covers everything from pronoun use to restroom use but doesn’t prescribe exactly what must be done in every situation. For instance, the policy lists several options for bathroom and locker room use, noting that any decision is “subject to any individual requests for privacy.”

Jennifer Robertson, who has an 11-year-old transgender daughter, praised the policy as a document that was “compassionately and thoughtfully” developed to address this population of students. When her daughter identified as transgender in third grade, the principal made her use a bathroom far from her classroom, which led to embarrassment, she said.

“This policy matters to her,” Robertson said.

But a large number of parents showed up and expressed a counter perspective. Many said they felt as if their opinions were ignored — streamrolled by a majority of board members whose minds they said were made up ahead of time.

Some vowed to remove their children from the district and enroll them in private, charter or home schools. Other parents, such as Erika Whitmore, warned that passing the policy could lead to lawsuits.

“There’s going to be consequences,” she said.

Ultimately, the lengthy public comment period didn’t change the mindset of board members. Trustees Deanna Wright, Carolyn Edwards, Linda Cavazos and Lola Brooks voted to approve the policy, while their board colleagues Kevin Child, Chris Garvey and Linda Young cast the opposition votes. The board split follows a similar voting pattern that’s been occuring in recent months as tensions have escalated among various trustees.

The divided board wasn’t unexpected. Child, Garvey and Young had expressed their concerns at a June meeting. The trustees said their constituents largely opposed the policy, and they also took issue with approving a policy before the state acts.

The Nevada Department of Education approved a statewide regulation in May, but it’s pending final approval from the legislative commission. Senate Bill 225, which requires the state to provide a regulation that ensures a safe and respectful learning environment for students with diverse gender identities and expressions, sparked the district-level conversation.

The district’s policy also struck Garvey as not being entirely transparent.

“There’s not a sense of openness about this,” she said. “There’s a sense of secrecy. It doesn’t seem like there is much language in this to protect all children or individual rights.”

But Brooks defended the policy as one that’s in line with nationally recognized models. She also pointed out that the Washoe County School District has had a similar policy for several years.

“We’re not reinventing the wheel here,” she said.

Wright, who serves as board president, said she hopes the community and school district can “move forward” after this divisive issue and focus attention on student achievement.

Her plea didn’t satisfy some members of the audience.

“Remember, it’s an election year,” one person quipped on her way out. “Vote them out.”

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