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Palm Coast Friday, Nov. 22, 2019 1 week ago

School Board member: District will look into allegations of transgender student's mistreatment at school

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The student's father said that the student so distrusts his high school's administration that he's considering transferring.
by: Jonathan Simmons News Editor

Flagler County School Board member Colleen Conklin told a local transgender high school student and his father during a School Board meeting Nov. 19 that the district will look into their assertions that the teen has been mistreated at school for being transgender.

"This is a very small group, but it's a very tender, fragile group. Let's make Flagler County a model for the state."

 

— RANDY BERTRAND

She also commended the student and his parents for being willing to speak publicly.

"I wanted to recognize you for being exceptionally brave for sharing with your parents, and I wanted to recognize your parents," she said to the teen. "I wanted to recognize both of you for being an example. And I hope and I pray that other parents who see that example find strength in that example, and that other students who are possibly struggling to share ... find inspiration from you being so brave. ... And we’ll look into the concerns that you shared."

The teen's father, Randy Bertrand, said during the meeting's public comment period that his child had previously attended school as a girl, but came out as transgender about a year ago and is now using male pronouns and a male name.

"You know, I was a little confused at first when he came out to me. But you know what, he's the same goofy, clumsy kid he’s always been," Bertrand said. "I just know him by a different name, a different pronoun."

Bertrand told board members the teen's new name, and pointed him out in the audience. The teen waved. 

NO DISTRICT POLICY ON TRANS NAME CHANGES

But last year, Bertrand said, one teacher refused to use the teen's new chosen name.

"I wanted to recognize both of you for being an example. And I hope and I pray that other parents who see that example find strength in that example, and that other students who are possibly struggling to share ... find inspiration from you being so brave."

 

— COLLEEN CONKLIN, School Board member, to a local transgender teen and his parents

"By choosing and making a willful choice to not use his chosen name, [the teacher] completely invalidated his identity," Bertrand said. "I mean, how hard is it to use somebody else's name?"

The student has since dropped the class, Bertrand said.

School Board Attorney Kristy Gavin told the Palm Coast Observer that the district doesn't have a formal policy, in general or for transgender students specifically, on how students are to be addressed by school staff when they assert a name different from their birth name.

"Nickname-changes are permitted to be used in reference to students in classroom environment," she wrote in an email. But, she added, "The District must use the name of the student as recorded on the birth certificate or other supporting evidence, as provided by law, on all official records until such time as a final court order verifying a legal change is received. There is no other policy on this matter in the District."

School Board member Trevor Tucker said the board has not discussed how the district should handle situations in which a teacher or staff member declines to use a transgender student's chosen name or new pronouns. 

"I'm sure we'll have a discussion at some point in the future," he said.

He said he wanted to do further research about how similar situations have been handled in other districts. 

But, he said, "You don't want a student to feel not welcomed in a school. We want every student to have a quality education. That's what we're here for."

Conflicts over the use of a transgender student's new name or pronouns in school have led to legal issues elsewhere. In Virginia, a teacher was fired after he refused to use male pronouns for a transgender boy last year, in defiance of the school administration's orders. He cited religious objections, and has since sued the district.

In Jacksonville earlier this year, a teacher refused to use female pronouns to refer to a transgender girl. The principal and district administration have backed the student, according to First Coast News.

DISTRICT BULLYING AND HARASSMENT POLICIES

Bertrand said his son feels unsupported at school.

"My son so distrusts the administration at his high school now that he’s faced with the option, what he considers the only option, to transfer to the other school in hopes that that environment will be more inclusive," Bertrand said. 

He noted that the school district had previously entered a settlement agreement with a Flagler Palm Coast High School student who'd charged in 2011 that he was being mistreated by fellow students and by a teacher for being gay. The ACLU took up that case. The teacher involved issued a public apology.

Since then, Bertrand said, the school district has not added specific protections for gender identity to its policies on bullying and harassment. 

The district's codes of conduct ban a broad variety of harassing, bullying and abusive behaviors regardless of their target. One section also bans the use of slurs against "federal protected groups" without specifically mentioning gender identity, defining the offense as "Use of inappropriate words with negative connotations, including verbal and written, words directed at a certain individual or group of individuals. Examples include, but are not limited to comments based on race, gender, religion, ethnic background, sexual orientation, etc."

Bertrand said the policy had not been updated as frequently as required — a charge Conklin later refuted, explaining that there are multiple policies involved, all updated recently — and he suggested "a revamp of the Flagler County bullying and harassment policy that highlights protections for sexual orientation and gender identity." 

He requested that the district conduct a workshop involving the administration of both high schools, plus volunteer representatives of the student transgender population.

"My son's willing to help you," Bertrand said. "I'd really hate for a young student to end their life because they felt invalidated because they felt that their gender identity wasn't protected in the school," he said, mentioning that transgender students are at elevated risk of attempting suicide.

"This is a very small group, but it's a very tender, fragile group," Bertrand said. "Let's make Flagler County a model for the state. I realize that we may be meeting the standards set forth by the Florida Department of Education, but I ask you to do more. I will help you do more. I will find people to help you put the language into this policy that makes sense." 

Have a news tip? Email News Editor Jonathan Simmons at [email protected].

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