LGBTQ school policy takes shape

School officials say policy proposal exceeds state requirement.

Assistant superintendent Richie Smith says the district's LGBTQ policy will exceed guidelines provided by the state. — File photo by Michael Cummo

Island school policies related to LGBTQ concerns and needs will go beyond legislatively mandated language, the All-Island School Committee (AISC) and about a dozen members of the public learned Thursday night.

Discussion did not include specifics of bathroom designation or graduation protocol — much discussed on social media recently — but was a description of the scope of the policy and the process by which it will be promulgated.

“We are including what the state regards as ‘should-do’ provisions in addition to ‘must-do’

mandates in our policy that we will recommend be adopted,” Richie Smith, assistant superintendent of schools, told his audience. “We’ve been told that this policy would be a model for the state.”

The proposed language was developed after months of dialogue with experts in the field, including Jeff Perrotti, the founding director of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Safe Schools Program for LGBTQ, as well as with parents, children, Island educators, and community members, Smith said.

Smith referenced input from Perrotti several times and said a link to the Safe Schools Program would be attached to new LGBTQ protective language to capture changes in law in real time.

In a rewritten draft Anti-Bias proposal distributed to the committee and to residents in attendance, Smith included a paragraph that reads, “Regarding transgender, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming students, we adhere to the guidelines of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s guidance for Massachusetts public schools creating a safe and supportive school environment, referred to with the following link:”

Smith, School Superintendent Matt D’Andrea, and school committee chairman Amy Houghton all said at various points of the 40-minute discussion that the all-Island committee cannot set policy for schools, but that town school committees each must vote to adopt school policy.

Presentation of the LGBTQ language as a separate element in school policy would represent a policy change, since Island school policymaking has been directed at the entire school population rather than a specific group.

Several in the audience, members of We Stand Together, suggested that the policy be easily referenced and accessible by providing a separate place for LGBTQ policy language in school policy rather than as a section of “anti-bias“ current policy, as Smith has proposed.

Smith read an email from Sarah Kuh, an Island social services professional who wrote that many of the changes are mandated, “and it is not clear that the anti-bias policy section is the right location for the LGBTQ” language, a view expressed by several people in the audience.

Several audience members supported Kuh’s view that “if the intent is to use state Department of Education language then that language be cut and pasted into an Martha’s Vineyard School letterhead document.” Smith replied that there may well be a “cut and paste” after further discussion he is planning with Kuh and others.

Whatever the final form of the new language, committee members agreed with Laura Silber of We Stand Together that “this needs to be a living document that reflects this Island.”

Committee member Rob Lionette said, “This has to do with privacy and law. We need to make it ours, make it a living document, not state law. It is not the same thing.”