FAIRFIELD – Public school officials drafted guidance to staff on dealing with LGBTQ student issues for the first time, but struggled to balance parental rights with student safety.
Interim Superintendent Stephen Tracy presented the draft to the Board of Education’s Policy Committee members at a Tuesday meeting. He clarified that it was not a policy proposal, but an answer to teacher requests for guidance.
“I thought that teachers who were concerned about this deserve to have some indication of what, at least, my expectations would be for them,” Tracy said.
Tracy said he met with attorneys to ensure that Fairfield was obeying the law, but also aimed to strike the right balance between supporting LGBTQ students and respecting parents.
Key aspects of the guidance outlined procedures for students coming out to staff, preferred names and pronouns and bathrooms, locker rooms and sports teams.
According to the draft, staff must report pronoun and name changes to a Title IX coordinator who will arrange a meeting with the student and counselors and advise relevant school staff to refer to the student accordingly.
The draft said that while suggesting a student should use a specific restroom is inappropriate, transgender students must be allowed to access single-sex facilities – including restrooms and locker rooms – consistent with their gender identity.
It also stated that transgender students should participate on the sports teams consistent with their gender identity.
The guidance emphasized that schools should put student safety first – it said staff may not know whether a student has communicated their sexual oritentation or gender identity to their parents, so they should consult with administrators on next steps. They may arrange family counseling if necessary.
Tracy told committee members that the privacy section was the toughest to write.
“I start with the assumption that parents are our partners in this whole enterprise, and that we should be open and communicating with them,” he said. “But I also worked for the Department of Children and Families for a few years, and I know that there are some bad exceptions to that rule.”
According to a 2022 study by the Trevor Project, 55 percent of LGBTQ youth who ran away from home reported that they did so due to mistreatment or fear of mistreatment.
Tracy said that there was no one-size-fits-all solution to the problem, but said that staff who question whether families are aware should contact administrators who will consult legal authorities.
Member Jennifer Maxon-Kennelly thanked Tracy for the guidance, saying it was valuable to have as a starting point. But she also said she could foresee additional questions from staff.
“What staff was asking for is direction – tell me what I should do and what I should not do,” Maxon-Kennelly explained. “No one’s looking to lose their job over these issues.”
She said that she hoped for consistency in guidance across the board and an open forum for teachers to voice their concerns.
Tracy said that he was open to discussions with staff, but did not want to slow the process.
“What I’m afraid of is that, given the strong feelings on every aspect of this issue, this could remain a draft for months and months. And that’s why it’s never addressed,” Tracy explained. “So I don’t want to paralyze the process by constantly asking for feedback.”
He said that discussion on LGBTQ student issues will never end, but he wanted to move the draft along to address inquiries he received from teachers over the summer.
Tracy said that he would begin to share the draft with building administrators by the end of the week, who would compile comments and concerns from school staff.