The policy codifies guidance on trans and gender expansive students’ rights to privacy, among other changes.
A new policy for Belfast area schools will help educators address the needs of transgender and gender expressive students. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

BELFAST, Maine — Educators and school administrators at Regional School Unit 71 have new guidelines to address the needs of transgender and gender nonconforming students.

The Regional School Unit 71 board of directors approved the transgender and gender expansive students policy Monday night in a 5-3 vote. The policy codifies guidance on trans and gender expansive students’ rights to privacy, using the bathroom or locker room of their choice, requesting name or pronoun changes on nonlegal documents, handling instances of bullying or discrimination, and how to notify parents of these requests.

RSU 71, which serves students from Belfast, Belmont, Morrill, Searsmont and Swanville, joins a growing number of school districts adopting policies to address the needs of trans students, help them feel comfortable on school grounds and handle discrimination. The policy was first adopted by Millinocket’s school board in 2015.

The policy also aims to set a procedure for communication when the student isn’t out to their parents.

“When we’re in delicate situations and there is a child who is terrified of what might happen if parents find out something, we work extremely hard to create a bridge between the students and the family … with students feeling loved by their parents and by parents expressing love for their kids,” Superintendent Mary Alice McLean said.

McLean emphasized the district cannot withhold information from parents, especially if a parent requests it.

However, the district’s purpose, now mandated through the policy, is to work to strengthen the bond between transgender students and their parents, she said.

The policy is modeled strictly after Maine law and a sample policy from Drummond Woodsum, the district’s law firm, McLean said.

While other districts have recently seen challenges to books about gender nonconforming people like “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe and challenges to policies like this, Belfast did not.

Ryan Harnden, Elizabeth Burnett, Catherine Halsted-Robbins, David Crabiel and Martha Proulx voted in favor, while Vice Chair Cory Seekins, Steve Hopkins and Jean Dube voted against it. Chair Ryan Otis was absent.

At Monday’s meeting, Dube and Hopkins wondered how these guidelines will differentiate between younger and older students.

“These days, it’s a trendy thing. And they’re afraid, ‘what are your parents going to say?’ Does that mean you’re not going to tell the parents? At what point do the students have the right to control their life?” Hopkins said.

The two also had concerns about how the policy can protect students who are not transgender or gender expansive, specifically when it comes to using locker room.

RSU 71 has an ongoing practice to allow trans students to use the locker room of their choice, and there have not been any complaints thus far, McLean said. And she explained there are ways to make all students feel comfortable, such as single-use bathrooms and single stalls in locker rooms.

“I’m not sure how it doesn’t protect other students,” McLean said.