Published in the December 10, 2015 edition
By DAN TOMASELLO
NORTH READING — Superintendent of Schools Jon Bernard and Assistant Superintendent Dr. Patrick Daly urged local lawmakers to sign off on a proposed bill that will increase protections for transgender students.
Bernard and Daly recently sent a letter to State Representative Brad Jones (R–North Reading) and State Senator Bruce Tarr (R–Gloucester) about the Transgender Protections Bill (HB 1577) and encouraged both lawmakers to approve the bill. The bill seeks to strengthen protections for transgender students.
The bill, known as An Act Relative to Transgender Anti–Discrimination would add “gender identity” to existing Massachusetts civil rights law for public accommodations, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of age, race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, sex, religion and marital status.”
According to the Boston Globe, the bill looks to remain stalled in the legislature without a vote for the foreseeable future, too. The legislature is currently on winter recess and the political dynamics could change next year in light of the pressures of election season.
Daly testified at the State House in October about the bill and the letter outlined the assistant superintendent’s testimony.
“Our goal in education is to create a safe and supportive environment for all students,” said Bernard and Daly in the letter. “An Act Relative to Gender Identity (Chapter 199 of the Acts of 2011) and the corresponding Department of Elementary and Secondary Education guidance has supported our administrators and educators in their efforts to provide an environment that supports both transgender youth and also all of our students.”
Bernard and Daly said there are transgender students in the school system “who need access to bathrooms, locker rooms and changing areas that are consistent with their gender identity.”
“These students need teachers and other educators to be familiar with the importance of using the correct pronouns and to understand that their name may change from the name assigned at birth,” said Bernard and Daly. “There are also questions about privacy, confidentiality and student records and each of these needs and questions has been supported by the clarity of the law and the recommendations of the DESE guidance.”
In the letter, Bernard and Daly said they have worked with Jeff Perrotti from DESE’s Safe Schools program, which the two school officials said has been an “invaluable experience for our schools and the community.”
“We have learned that there is so much to understand about this topic and after each session with Jeff, our school community has moved further along the path of greater understanding,” said Bernard and Daly.
Bernard and Daly acknowledged there might be some reservations from both lawmakers and residents about the bill but they tried to alleviate those concerns in the letter.
“We respect the concerns and questions that all students and families have but we have found that many fears have been assuaged when students have more information and education about transgender students,” said Bernard and Daly. “In our experience, once any concerned individual meets a transgender youth and hears their story, most, if not all, concerns dissipate.”
Bernard and Daly said the Transgender Protections bill “extends the protections that our students receive in the schools to the greater community.”
“This bill would assure that our students are safe not only when they are in school but also when they leave, either on weekends or upon graduation from our district,” said Bernard and Daly. “We respectfully ask you to consider the success that an Act Relative to Gender Identity and the DESE guidance has had in providing clarity and support to our school district in extending a safe and supportive environment for all our students.”
In closing, Bernard and Daly said, “We believe that the language of the Transgender Protections bill would provide similar clarity and support for the community at large as it has done for the school community, leading to further support for our transgender students as citizens of the commonwealth.”
Bernard informed the School Committee last week he spoke with Jones and Tarr about the proposed bill recently.
“They were both appreciative we sent the letter and they want to follow up with us,” said Bernard.