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Conway’s School Board sets vote on transgender policies

by Ashley Savage | September 29, 2022 at 6:51 a.m.
A classroom is shown in this 2015 file photo.

The Conway School Board on Wednesday decided to vote in two weeks on a policy that restricts transgender students, faculty and staff from using restrooms that align with their gender identity.

The board is also set to vote during its Oct. 11 meeting on a policy that polices overnight stays for transgender students .

"I've given more thought and energy to this in the 13 years that I've been on this board than any issue that we've had," said board President Andre' Acklin.

Acklin added, "I've got to be able to sleep at night and if this is something that is not good for all the kids, even if it's a small portion, I'm still going to be concerned about it. If I have to stand alone I will."

A line in the restroom policy says the rule will "ensure privacy and safety."

The board discussed whether the two policies will stigmatize transgender students, faculty and staff -- creating an inherently discriminatory environment for them.

Policies 4.20 and 4.56.2 establish rules within the district based on individuals' original birth certificate, even if they identify differently now.

Both policies do not acknowledge risk that comes with requiring transgender individuals to request these accommodations.

The board announced the proposed policies in early September.

On Sept. 13, public attendance at the board meeting was so large the meeting was moved to the auditorium.

Members of the school district, parents and students of surrounding Conway schools came out to show their frustrations with the board's proposed policies.

"I'm a wife, mother of four and a Christian," said Conway resident Jenny Wallace at the Sept. 13 board meeting. Wallace believes the board is "pushing an agenda in the current culture war, while bullying Conway Public Students."

Wallace reminded the board that several other districts in the nation have taken this route to restrict transgender individuals' access to restrooms and changing rooms before, only to lose lawsuits, business and money in court.

Wallace also mentioned how a Virginia school board lost a similar case after implementing similar policies. She then asked the board a series of questions: "Where will that money come from? Will it come from the district? Will it come from our tax dollars? Will it come from the board members who are voting for discriminatory processes?"

The crowd erupted with clapping, cheers and whistling after Wallace finished speaking.

On Wednesday, the public turnout for the board's work session was the opposite of the previous board meeting.

A handful of individuals attended the work session to review the two policies -- which was held in the school's administration building.

Acklin kicked off the Wednesday conversation by asking Superintendent Jeff Collum, "If other districts in the state don't have policies like these, why are we leading the way?"

Collum said, "I want to be clear that these policies are not required, but that the state says the restroom and overnight policies are "legally recommended."

Other board members referenced an incident last year where two transgender students were staying in the same room on an overnight trip and a third girl in the room called her parents to complain.

The situation was handled on an administrative level with the parents and the principal.

Administrators at the meeting said the proposed policies highlight how these scenarios have always been handled.

Collum said part of the goal of the two policies is to give faculty clear guidance on what to do when faced with these circumstances.

Acklin suggested the policies be put on pause while they continue to navigate this "uncharted territory."

"I don't want to misuse taxpayers money on a lawsuit that I feel would happen," said Acklin.

Board member Jason Sandefer said, "These are real families, real parents and real students."

Sandefer -- who seemed torn on the issue, calling it "more complex" than he originally thought -- said putting a pause on the policy would allow for the board members to alter the language to better serve both sides of the matter and hear more back from the community.

Board member Trip Leach disagreed with the two, arguing in favor of bringing the policies to vote at the next board meeting.

"I'm ready to vote and move on," said Leach.

"There's no possible solution to satisfy everybody. We just have to make a decision that we feel is best for all kids and if some people disagree, I hate that and I'm sorry."

Members of the board did not vote, but collectively agreed on bringing the two policies up for a vote on Oct. 11.

The board also agreed to update a portion of the overnight policy before the next board meeting.

The original policy stated that families of transgender students can pay for a reasonable accommodation on overnight trips if they do not wish to comply with the rule. That accommodation would include access to a single occupancy restroom or changing room.

However, the board agreed on Wednesday that the district should pay for such an accommodation if it is requested.

Collum reiterated that the board will be open to hearing more public comment on the two policies before the final vote on Oct. 11.

Print Headline: Conway’s School Board sets vote on transgender policies


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