By CAROL GORGA WILLIAMS
Asbury Park School District does not stand with its counterparts in Middletown, Marlboro or Manalapan-Englishtown, who have opted to subject their transgender students to an elevated level of scrutiny that the state attorney general says violates the civil rights of the children.
Asbury Park stands with its transgender students and their rights to their own gender identities, said Board Member Michael Penna. Asbury Park stands with its students and always will, he said
Penna’s committee reviewed the board’s transgender policies in light of what is happening in certain suburban and rural school districts and emerged from that review more determined than ever to support the civil rights of students here.
Last month state Attorney General Matt Platkin sued the above districts after earlier filing an action against the Hanover Board of Education.
The districts have adopted policies requiring school officials to inform parents if their children show signs of changing their gender identity.
The lawsuit alleges the policies violate New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination and put transgender students at risk.
According to the state Department of Education, the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination generally makes it unlawful for schools to subject individuals to differential treatment based on race, creed, color, national origin, ancestry, marital status, domestic partnership or civil union status, sex, affectional or sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, disability or nationality.
“In light of what has been happening at other boards of education in Monmouth County, I just wanted to state that here at the Asbury Park Board of Education, we fully support our transgender students and faculty members and the policy set forth by the state,” Penna said.
“We will always support the LGBTQAi+ community here in Asbury Park and our schools will always be a safe place for children to learn and grow into young adults,” said Penna, who is a teacher as well but in another district.
Penna’s statement was made without controversy. The policy was supported by fellow Board Member Joe Grillo.
“It is horrible what is going on in these other school districts,” Grillo said. “Not only is it a waste of taxpayer dollars but morally they are just plain wrong. Schools are supposed to be a place for students to grow and learn and to be themselves. Here in Asbury Park, we will always support our students and staff to be their true selves on their own timeline and their own journey.”
The state education guidelines were prepared by the New Jersey Department of Education after a review of policies and guidance from other states and organizations, and in consultation with educators, counselors, school psychologists, advocates and parents. The intended purpose of this guidance is to help school and district administrators take steps to create an inclusive environment in which transgender and gender nonconforming students feel safe and supported, and to ensure that each school provides equal educational opportunities for all students.
Communication with the student is paramount, state officials said. Schools and school districts are encouraged to communicate openly, albeit confidentially, with students regarding their transgender status or gender identity. Proper communication with the student will ensure that appropriate steps are taken to determine a student’s preferences and address potential privacy concerns and associated risks to the student’s well-being.