Lower Merion schools unanimously pass transgender policy

Lower Merion schools unanimously pass transgender policy

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The Lower Merion School Board unanimously passed a policy May 16 that outlines how officials will respond to the needs of transgender students. It addresses names and pronouns, privacy and academic records and proper incorporation into sex-segregated programs and facilities.

Board members received a standing ovation from the dozens crowded into the administration building on Montgomery Avenue. Lower Merion is one of five known districts in the state to adopt a trans-affirmative policy. The other schools, all in suburban Philadelphia, are Great Valley, Springfield, Upper Dublin and Cheltenham.  

The Pittsburgh Public School Board will likely vote on its transgender student policy at a meeting next month. The School District of Philadelphia has a policy in the works that is expected to reach the School Reform Commission over the summer.

After the vote, Kristen Cooney, a junior, and Maxwell Bruno Reiver, a senior, from Harriton High School in the district, streamed into the hallway outside the board room with other students who spoke during the meeting. They hugged and gave each other high fives. Cooney had tears in her eyes.

“This policy is the icing on the cake for [Lower Merion School District] to show that we are a district to be looked up to,” Bruno Reiver said. “As a graduating senior, I cannot express how grateful I am to have attended such a progressive, open-minded institution.”

Bruno Reiver said he first began to explore his gender in 2013 and found Harriton a “positive, supportive community.”

“I, as a trans youth, trying to figure everything out, much like my peers, was treated and regarded as equal to any other student.”

Bruno Reiver spoke along with 24 others, including parents and students; current and former employees; health professionals; a reverend; and Ilene Wasserman, chair of the Lower Merion Human Relations Commission. Everyone who offered comment was in favor of the policy, called policy 259 for gender expansive and transgender students.

Jason Landau Goodman, founding executive director of the Pennsylvania Youth Congress, also spoke. He worked with several students from the Harriton GSA as they organized in support of the trans student policy.

Several students looked forward to what the new policy would mean for the district. Cooney said everyone graduating next month would wear red robes. Previously, girls wore white and boys wore red.

Lian Brody, a junior at Harriton, praised the policy for its focus on educating teachers and students.

“I haven’t told a lot of my teachers about my identity because I feel like a lot of them aren’t going to understand,” said Brody, who uses they pronouns. “As a gender-expansive student, I feel like it’ll be a lot easier for me to come out to my teachers … since it’s going to be a set-in-stone thing that people will have to know about.”   

Brody said the policy mentions added curriculum for students, which they hoped could help alleviate some of the negative experiences that transgender, lesbian, gay and bisexual students have had in health classes. Usually LGBT topics aren’t covered, Brody said.

Jill Ringold, who works with the Montgomery Child Advocacy Project, a nonprofit for abused and neglected children, said she wanted to address some of the common negative reactions to trans-affirmative policies.

Ringold acknowledged the refrain that a male predator may use a transgender policy to enter a girls’ restroom and abuse its occupants. But, she added, 80 percent of child abusers are parents and another nearly seven percent are close relatives, according to The National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System.

“That means almost 90 percent of child abuse is happening at home, in your home, not at school and not in the bathrooms,” said Ringold, who lives in the Merion Station section of Lower Merion Township. She has two kids in the district, one in second grade and one in fifth at Cynwyd Elementary School.

“If people are so concerned about the safety of their children,” Ringold said, “then the most important thing they can do is to educate their children about their bodies; what they have and how it works; who should be allowed to see and touch them, and when it is ever appropriate, as in when a doctor needs to see you to keep you safe or healthy. That’s the education that needs to be happening.” 

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