Portland schools study policies for transgender students

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PORTLAND — The School Board will form a task force to examine the needs of transgender students.

Chairwoman Marnie Morrione said at the board’s June 7 meeting that the School Department “welcomes the opportunity” to be inclusive.

“The main objective is to ensure all our students feel as comfortable as possible in our schools,” Morrione said.

On Monday, interim Superintendent of Schools Jeanne Crocker said the task force is a result of guidance from the U.S. Department of Justice and Department of Education to all school districts in the country, and not in response to an incident.

The guidelines say schools must treat transgender students in accordance with their gender identity, and should allow students to use the facilities of the gender with which they identify.

“Our task force is coming together to discuss what our best next steps will be, so we adhere to the guidance, and continue to do the best we can so all students feel safe and comfortable,” Crocker said.

The task force will be comprised of staff, students, parents and community members. Morrione said the task force is still being formed, so an initial meeting has not yet been scheduled. 

Crocker said the task force is only looking at guidance for the use of bathrooms and locker rooms to start with, but it could eventually look at other issues, too. Crocker said the hope is to have any policy changes in place by the start of the upcoming school year.

“We look forward to this opportunity to make our schools more welcoming and more safe and more secure for all of our students,” she said.

Portland schools were recognized earlier this year by EqualityMaine with the organization’s Partner for Equality Award, for providing safe and inclusive learning environments for students.

Portland was also the first school district in the state to march in the annual Pride Parade put on by EqualityMaine last year. The district will take part in this year’s parade on June 18, too, with Xavier Botana, the incoming superintendent of schools, participating along with Crocker, School Board members, students and staff. Crocker said she also extended the invitation to superintendents from neighboring districts.

Portland is not the only community looking into the needs of transgender students. The Scarborough School Board is headed towards adopting a wide-ranging policy addressing the rights and needs of transgender students. The board has a vote scheduled for June 16.

Maine and the rights of transgender students have made headlines recently, as Republican Gov. Paul LePage added his name to a lawsuit against the U.S. government’s directive that public schools allow students to use their bathroom of choice. Texas, Alabama, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Utah, Georgia and the Arizona Department of Education are also parties in the lawsuit.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

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Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.