5-year-old gender non-conforming student spurs debate at Minnesota charter school

Nova Classical Academy, St. Paul, Minn.

Nova Classical Academy, St. Paul, Minn.

ST. PAUL, Minn. — A public charter school in St. Paul is at the center of a debate over how to best meet the needs of transgender and gender non-conforming students.

The parents of a 5-year-old child who is gender nonconforming asked Nova Classical Academy to help make sure their student was not being bullied.

Outside groups stepped in and the school’s board got involved when other parents heard that faculty members were talking with children about such bullying. Now the Minnesota Family Council plans to hold a community meeting Tuesday at the school to discuss the issue.

Jill Gaulding, a co-founder of the nonprofit Gender Justice who is working with the child’s family, told the Star Tribune that since Nova did not have a policy to make transgender students feel protected, one family is feeling the backlash.

“I do think it’s sad and unfair to that one child. But it’s a wake-up call to administrators across the state,” Gaulding said.

Autumn Leva of the Minnesota Family Council, a Minneapolis-based Christian organization, said parents were uncomfortable with faculty reading about transgender issues to their children.

“For a lot of these families these are sensitive issues,” Leva said.

St. Paul Public Schools approved a gender inclusion policy in March. The policy says staff in the school district will respect students’ gender identity and provide them with access to facilities that best align with that identity. That includes bathrooms, which has some parents upset.

Nova’s executive director, Eric Williams, said the school is considering the district’s inclusion policy, but has not yet adopted it nor made any decisions about who can use which bathrooms.

Ali Yocom, co-chair of the support group Transforming Families, calls the focus on bathrooms a “scare tactic.” The focus at Nova has been on bullying, not bathrooms, Yocom said.

“We’re focused on a 5-year-old who wears a jumper to school, who loves to sing, who’s a happy kid who just wants to go to school and be safe,” Yocom said. “It’s so sad that there are so many adults out there that are willing to go to great lengths to make this kid’s experience more difficult.”

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