All-Island School Committee looks to protect student rights

The committee tackled transgender, immigration, and special needs issues.

The All-Island School Committee approved a resolution that aims to better protect students, regardless of their immigration status.

The All-Island School Committee meant business when it came to student safety, unanimously approving a “safe schools resolution,” reiterating transgender student rights and protections, and ensuring that there was gym time for a basketball team that is looking to compete in the Special Olympics to practice.

“It’s a plan of action, not just a resolution,” committee member Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter said of the safe schools resolution, which affirms the educational rights of students, regardless of their immigration status.

A 20-member task force was formed to address complaints of discrimination and bullying at Martha’s Vineyard schools, incidents that have targeted children of immigrant families.

Members also drafted a resolution after people expressed alarm over the sharing of information regarding immigration status, anxiety around the possibility of parents being deported, and the unknowns of what would happen to their children, as well as concerns about U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers in school buildings.

The resolution stated, “The School Committee believes that this safe and caring learning environment would be threatened by the presence of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement or Department of Homeland Security (DHS) employees or agents on district property for the purpose of obtaining information about students and families or for the purpose of removing or detaining students or their families.”

Last Thursday, the committee made three amendments before approving the resolution — to see if they could take out the legalese, list all participating schools, and that the present task force continue until an advisory task force is formed.

Matt D’Andrea, superintendent of schools, presented the resolution, in its sixth draft, to the committee, and said that it had been sent to the school attorney, who approved it.

“The way I look at,” Mr. D’Andrea said, “this is a good thing for our district to do.”

Irene Bright-Dumm, a representative from We Stand Together MV, talked about issues with literacy, and that sending forms home to relay information to parents, whether translated or not, was not always an effective method.

“That’s why having this written procedure or protocol around this information is really important,” Leah Palmer, director of the English Language Learners program at the high school and a member of the task force, said. “And when doing that, and thinking about how we are disseminating this information, and how we are making sure that all families are understanding this, I think that will be part of this process, and this resolution affirms that.”

Title IX protections

The committee discussed the expansion by executive order of President Barack Obama of Title IX that ensured federal protection of transgender students, which President Donald Trump rescinded this year.

Mr. D’Andrea told the committee that there had been prior discussion around the possibility of developing a policy around Title IX, but he said, “At this time I question the need to go ahead and develop a policy.” He then put the decision to the committee, and they didn’t take any further action.

Robert Lionette, chairman of the high school committee, talked about embedding the practices into school culture, with the training of staff, faculty, and students. Richie Smith, assistant superintendent of schools, said school officials are hoping to form a student group, with the help of teachers and committee members, to see how to handle lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) issues moving forward, and how the school district could use professional development days to train and educate faculty and staff.

Mr. Smith said Jeff Perrotti, founding director of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s safe schools program for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning students, plans to speak about LGBT rights on May 25 at the high school.

Gym time

Laura Silber, who is the chair of the Island parents advisory council on special education, read a letter from Heather Devine, a council member, and informed the committee about an afterschool special needs basketball program that couldn’t run last year because they were unable to find available gym space. This, Ms. Silber said, was a “great disappointment to all the kids.”

The team is looking to join the Special Olympics program to play other children on Cape Cod, from October to March. Ms. Silber said there was a lack of afterschool programming for special needs children Island-wide.

The committee agreed, saying one night a week for an hour was not a large request, and said they would make sure schools would equally share gym time so the team could practice.

“This program is important and needs to be included,” Mr. Manter said.