HIGHTSTOWN: Transgender student policy introduced

By Amy Batista, Special Writer
The Board of Education unanimously approved and amended its first reading of several policies including its substance abuse, pupil discipline, student discipline and transgender student policies during its meeting Monday night.
Interim Superintendent of Schools Thomas Gialanella said the substance abuse and pupil discipline policies are mandated policies.
“The administrators from the high school reviewed both of those and filled in some of the blanks that we needed to fill in to make sure that we are not only meeting the law but it’s what we actually do here in East Windsor,” he said.
The board also introduced a brand new transgender student policy.
“That is a suggested policy,” Mr. Gialanella said. “The policy maker consultant strongly suggests that districts adopt this. This has been out for probably seven or eight months and I think we need forward this.”
He said it follows some of the basic requirements under the law.
“It basically says a discussion will take place with the student, the parent and the administration to make any accommodations that are comfortable for everybody,” he said. “It doesn’t lay out any accommodations that we must do. It’s really up to the family and the school district.”
According to the policy, the Board of Education strives to provide a safe and supportive environment for all students. In furthering this goal, the board would address the needs of transgender and gender nonconforming students enrolled in the school district.
The policy further states that the Board of Education believes the responsibility for determining a student’s gender-related identity rests with the student, or in the case of the young students not yet able to advocate for themselves, with the parent. Therefore, the board would accept a student’s assertion of his or her gender identity when there is consistent and uniform assertion of the gender-related identity, or any other evidence that the gender-related identity is sincerely held as part of the student’s core identity. The board would authorize the superintendent or designee to question a student’s asserted gender identity when there is a credible basis for believing the student’s gender-related identity is being asserted for some improper purpose. Confirmation of a student’s asserted gender must include a letter from a parent or the adult student to the superintendent of schools indicating the student is gender non-conforming, according to the policy.
Board Member Peter Bussone asked if the state or the Board of Education had created the regulations.
“These regulations are all great — and as far as transgender students I support that — but when it gets to the substance abuse and the discipline and conduct, are these coming from the state or are these our (regulations),” he said.
Mr. Gialanella said the regulations come from the policy consultant.
“What the state wants us to do is put in what they call a chart of disciplines somewhere,” he said, adding the state wants the board to outline some basic things.
Mr. Bussone pointed out that the penalty for weapons offenses — the first, second and third offenses — are all the same.
“All it takes is one time to have a situation that I don’t even want to talk about,” he said. “All it says is out of school suspension.”
Mr. Gialanella said, “Weapons offenses in particular, under the code, and certain things have to end with pressing charges and things like that.”
He added that the regulations just give the board some guidelines.
When Mr. Bussone inquired if the board could “go beyond that,” Mr. Gialanella confirmed that it could.
“I do want to make sure that it has the language in there to look at it on a case by case basis because in some areas I think it is very, very strict and things like detention and suspension are primary tools as consequences and clearly we want to try and help students to engage in appropriate behavior,” board member Christine Harrington said.
Mr. Gialanella said the board could add language that isn’t in the regulations.
“Under the statues there is a lot of ability to use judgment and that’s what the administrators in the buildings are there for — to use their judgment within a framework,” board attorney David Coates said. 