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East Aurora, Ill., school district dissolves transgender policy committee

By Tony Merevick| Chicago Phoenix
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
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AURORA, Ill. — After over two months of contentious debate, controversy and uncertainty, the East Aurora School District 131 has called off the creation of a new policy that would add protections for transgender and gender nonconforming students.

After hearing over 30 members of the local community — about 40 miles west of Chicago — decry the creation of such a policy as “dangerous” for district students, the school board unanimously voted Monday to disband the Ad Hoc committee it ordered in late October, citing its failure to yield progress.

“We have gotten to hear from the parents of the community and I am glad for that,” said Board President Annette Johnson. “I think this committee has served the purpose of bringing the community together and I think it is time to disband the committee.”

Anita Lewis, a school board member who chaired the Ad Hoc committee said she was disappointed by its inability to get work done during its meetings due to people from within and outside the community demanding to be a part of the discussion.

“Unfortunately, this committee has turned into a show,” Lewis said. “We have policies already in place that are there to protect students. I don’t see us going forward. This Ad Hoc committee isn’t going to help anyone. I think we should get rid of it.”

The Ad Hoc committee’s last meeting, Nov. 30, was picketed by over 120 religious and conservative protesters who were against its continuation. Police were also called in by the Department of Justice due to safety concerns for some of the committee members.

Prior to that meeting, Lewis decided to open part of it to public comments, which took away from the time that could have been used to discuss the actual policy, said Anthony Martinez, executive director of The Civil Rights Agenda and Ad Hoc committee member.

“I think it was a failure of leadership by the school board,” Martinez said. “I think the folks handling this from the beginning were out of their depth. You only have to look and see that the Ad Hoc committee never once discussed the matter of policy. All we did was sit and listen to people voice their displeasure.”

Wimmer agrees that time was wasted, saying that the committee used 90 minutes for public comments at the last meeting and that the speakers were organized by local religious organizations and the Illinois Family Institute.

“They’re the ones who allowed it to turn into a circus,” she said.

“I’m very disappointed that the board appeared to cave in to the vocal demands of the Illinois Family Institute, a certified hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center instead of allowing the committee they appointed to take testimony from experts in order to implement the Illinois Human Rights Act and protect transgender children,” she said. “What we could have done is limit public participation so that we can actually do our work.”

In place of a new policy, Johnson said the district has updated its existing anti-bullying policies and programs to meet state standards.

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