HOWELL – Members of the Howell Board of Education have decided not to make any changes at this time to the district’s policy on transgender students.
The hot topic has made its way through several Monmouth County schools, as their decisions to make change have been challenged in court by the state.
At the August Board of Education meeting, several concerned residents attended to express their opinion on the policy.
Before the public comment portion began, Superintendent Joseph Isola voiced his support for the current policy and reassured that all students will feel comfortable and safe in school, whether the policy changes or not.
“We have a commitment to making sure students are able to enter a school community that is safe, that they feel comfortable in, so that they can present for learning and we can provide an opportunity for them to reach their dreams and everything they aspire to be,” Isola said. “We believe strongly in home (and) school partnership. It is a cornerstone of success. But if we believe that partnership is fractured and a student is in harm’s way, there will be steps taken to support that child in a way that is sincere and genuine… Children will always come first.”
Currently, Howell Public Schools follow the state’s transgender student guidance. The policy prohibits discrimination based on gender identity or expression. Additionally, staff members are not required to notify a student’s parent or guardian if a student changes gender identity or expression.
In a recent poll from Monmouth University, three in four New Jersey adults feel middle and high schools should be required to notify parents if their child wants to be identified as a different gender.
“As a school leader, it is sometimes frustrating that schools and school districts become the battle ground for political war,” Isola said. “The facts are really simple from my perspective. Our district has charged me to make sure we do everything to ensure the wellbeing of our students and staff. This superintendent will never waver from that, regardless of what is said tonight or what policy one board or a future board may enact.”
After the closed executive session, Board President Albert Miller said the board agreed not to pursue changes. All the board members were in favor of this decision except member Joseph Mauer, who said the policy should move to committee for revisions in favor of parental notification.
This school year, schools are required to follow state guidelines as well as the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, which protects transgender students.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, there were many adults who expressed how vital it is not to change the policy.
Viktor Veltstra, a parent of two LGBTQ+ kids in Howell, explained how his kids had positive interactions with the school and were able to come out due to having a safe environment. However, Veltstra said when he was in high school, he could not come out to his parents because it would have been unsafe and had concerns about his safety.
“My child was able to come out young because he knew that he was in a supportive environment where he was not going to have problems,” Veltstra said. “I’m very aware that not all children have that in their homes.”
Another Howell resident, Ellie Calo, said the current policy is important for transgender students. Her daughter, Jade, came out as transgender in her junior year of high school.
Calo shared the story how her daughter was more nervous to come out to her conservative father than her mother, but did not feel unsafe, allowing her to come out. Since doing so, her dad’s support has grown.
“I wish every kid felt safe telling every parent everything about themselves, but unfortunately, that’s not always the case,” Calo said.
“There are a lot of people out there who would physically or mentally harm their child if they were to come out so having this policy is very important,” Calo added.
Although the majority of the public commenters were in favor of not changing the current policy, there were some parents/adults who stated why the policy needs to be changed. Those is favor of change said that it should be required that parents are notified when their child identifies as a different gender.
“For the same reasons they want to protect their children, I want to protect my children. If my son goes to school and comes out, I should be able to get him in the best situation possible so that he doesn’t commit suicide. I should be able to choose where he goes and who he talks to. Maybe my son would come out to anybody and say ‘hey I’m gay,’ in school. And that’s fine,” David Elliot, a parent of four children, said. “I think it’s being blown out of proportion. Maybe I want to say ‘hey it’s ok that you’re gay, but you’re not a woman.’ And that’s just facts.”