Gender identity and transitioning are complex and school boards should get out of the way

The Waterloo District School Board has radical procedures in place to keep parents in the dark about students transitioning and is not equipped to deal with the complexities of gender identity.

Gender identity and transitioning are complex and school boards should get out of the way
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Last night, the Waterloo Region District School Board (WDSB) had a 'Committee of the Whole' meeting. On the agenda was a motion to request a report on eBooks, surveys and curriculum, while a last-minute delegate wanted to address a potentially harmful administrative procedure implemented by the board.

The motion to request age-appropriateness of library material was brought forward by WRDSB trustee Cindy Watson, who raised concerns that elementary school students could access eBooks in the online library that contain illicit content.

“Whereas elementary students are able to access eBooks that are not age appropriate from the Waterloo Region District School Boards online library; Whereas some parents state they are not receiving notice or opt out information before sexual health teaching in various forms and surveys; Whereas the WRDSB staff and trustees are committed to transparency when communicating with parents and the broad public.”

Parental delegates like David Todor spoke on this motion and asked what filtering process was in place to ensure sexual content is age appropriate. He reiterated remarks from a previous board meeting around student census data and surveys during which he asked, “Who is interested in the sexual orientation and gender identity of my daughter?”

Trustees Johnson, Meissner, Piatkowski, Radlein, Snyder, and Woodcock opposed the motion, and it was defeated in a 6:4 recorded vote.

Vice-Chair Woodcock was one of the trustees that voted against the motion. “I believe that his questions have already been answered,” she said, referring to an anonymous open letter published after the January school district meeting.

Todor read an excerpt from the book Identical by Ellen Hopkins while speaking at the most recent meeting. It is readily available to high school students through the school eLibrary. It details an in-depth direct account of incestual pedophilia.

Trustee Waseem asked for the context of the excerpt while other trustees defended the content as necessary for students who have experienced similar trauma.

“It’s inappropriate. What do you not understand?” Todor asked in defence of denouncing readily available grotesque content increasingly found in publicly-funded schools.

Trustee Watson condemned the mischaracterization of delegates if they question the status quo. “David is clearly asking for information around his children and what we're providing in our libraries. He deserves to get those answers. The judgement and the mischaracterization of any comment is wrong… and the polarization, I believe, will stop when we welcome parents into the boardroom and provide [them with the] information that they’re looking for,” she said.

Another father delegate who is employed by the WRDSB, Mike Miller, began his slideshow presentation by introducing his pronouns and acknowledging his privilege. Miller is the staff president at Preston High School within the WRDSB.

He claimed to bring forward facts to support his opinion before stating that he is “addicted to American media,” which he used heavily to source his argument that children should continue to have access to all content in the libraries regardless of age-appropriateness. He referred to “book banning” in the United States and said he does not want WRDSB to turn into “the bare shelves of Ron DeSantis’ state.”

Trustee Watson asked Miller if he was referring to classic books currently banned in school libraries to which this self-proclaimed well-researched father said he was “unaware.”

The issue hit home with last-minute remarks by Julia Malott, who expressed concern over WRSDB’s Procedure 1235 and the use of preferred pronouns for children, also known as social transition.

The procedure compels school staff to “keep a student’s gender status confidential,” specifying that a “school should never disclose a student’s gender status to the student’s parent(s)/guardian(s) without the student’s explicit prior consent.”

Malott spoke on the subject:

“I agree with parents that it is not the responsibility of the school to evaluate whether or not transition is the appropriate path forward for a given student. This is the responsibility of the healthcare system and the parents. Unfortunately WRDSB has adopted a policy by which students who do not wish to have their parents notified will be allowed to socially transition at school while having this withheld from their parents. 

This is done at the student's discretion. This overstep of parental rights is dangerous and irresponsible. How do we ensure that appropriate mental health and medical supports are available to students on this journey if their parents are kept in the dark?

For a child, conceptualization of identity is especially unstable. Comorbidity with [trans] individuals is commonplace and a significant overlap is seen between individuals with gender dysphoria and those who experience autism, mood and identity disorders, borderline personality disorders, and more.

These underlying conditions require professional attention. Identity is complicated – this is not school councillor level stuff. These conditions require expertise and clinicians to comprehend and diagnose.”

Malott highlighted the relative risks and benefits of transitioning, stating that there is still much to be learned.

Trustees appeared confused by her remarks, asking her if she was to speak on preferred names and pronouns to which Malott had to clarify.

“That’s also known as social transition. When a child socially transitions at school, that is not a hormonal intervention or a surgical intervention, that is the utilization of the names and pronouns for which they prefer,” she matter-of-factly stated.

Malott referred to social transition as a profound intervention. “Unlike a sexual identity, a cross-gender identity is salient to everyone; every teacher, every peer, it’s something you literally wear on your face,” she said.

“But this is not within the school's responsibility to vet if transition is appropriate for a child. This is why we have a healthcare system, this is why psychologists exist. Mental health and psychiatric support are effective at helping sort through these complex feelings and emotions but that support can only happen if the medical community embarks throughout the process and the connection between the school and the healthcare system IS the family.”

The procedure put in place by WRDSB forces staff to hide confusion around identity from parents. According to Malott, this results in further “isolation of children from their families and parents, stripping children of both their familial and medical support community.”

“When you transition in part of your life, but not everywhere, it is natural to invest only in the relationships where you feel affirmed and let those non-beliefs slip further away. The dissonance between those two competing social circles – the one where you are affirmed and the one where you are not – can bring even more intense dysphoria. Identity and transition is complicated. This is beyond the expertise of a schoolboard.”

Noting that credible concerns exist about “coming out” at home, Malott declared that there is a mechanism in place to handle these situations.

“You’ve alluded to it, three times tonight in this meeting,” Malott said to Chair Weston.

“When a teacher or educator holds bona fide concern about the safety of a students household, we direct this to the attention of the Children’s Aid Services… they can support the family in ways that educators could never hope to achieve. Leave gender transition to the responsibility of the legal guardian and the healthcare system. Let them do their jobs. The only thing excluding parents from being involved is this boards decision to do so under Policy 1235.”

Trustee Piatkowski responded to Malott, saying that he has transgender friends who have a different opinion than her and asked if her opinion was reflective of a trans-minority which resulted in a point of order calling on him to reframe the request for clarification.

Trustee Watson put forward a motion to refer Malott’s concerns to school staff for consideration.

At least one trustee, Radlein, was confused by Procedure 1235 and the delegation, citing unfamiliarity with the procedure and a “different understanding” of it.

Trustee Johnson expressed concern around giving staff extra work, and believed consultations with experts and stakeholders took place.

Watson clarified that there was no consultation on this procedure, because it is not a policy.

This means that Procedure 1235 is a step-by-step process to be adhered to. It’s a strict, action-oriented process, not a guideline for decision making like a policy.

Trustee Woodcock proceeded to confirm that procedures are developed by staff.

In a recorded vote, the motion was defeated by Trustees Johnson, Meissner, Piatkowski, Radlein, Snyder, Wassem and Woodcock, for a 7:3 vote.

It's clear that school boards should leave the complexities and nuance of gender transition to the experts, stop meddling in identity politics, and instead focus their efforts on delivering actual education.

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