Officials: Westport schools ‘safe haven’ for all
WESTPORT — Transgender students at Westport Public Schools will continue to have their rights protected — specifically, the ability to choose which gender restroom they identify with — despite President Donald Trump’s recent actions.
“I think it’s incumbent upon all school leaders to ensure that every school environment provides a safe and welcoming atmosphere for students and staff of all backgrounds, no matter what race, ethnic background, religious background, socioeconomic status or sexual orientation,” Superintendent of Schools Colleen Palmer said when asked about Trump rescinding a directive implemented by former President Barack Obama that prevents public schools from discriminating transgender students.
In a move orchestrated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ Justice Department, Obama’s directive that federal nondiscrimination laws, under Title IX, allowing students to choose where they go to the bathroom based on their gender identity, was dismissed.
Westport school administrators resoundingly opposed the measure.
“No matter what the difference is, we need to be a safe haven for our students where they are accepted and respected, and we tolerate no one who would undermine that environment,” Palmer said.
James D’Amico, the principal of Staples High School, said he and his staff are committed to accommodating all students. Last summer, in response to the Obama administration’s guidance and because the district believed it was “best for our students,” Staples converted three restrooms, originally designated for staff by gender, into unisex bathrooms that can be accessed by all students.
“It was to accommodate students who are transgender and those who might need a private restroom for any reason. So we identified three bathrooms on the academic wing of the building, and we are continuing to work with facilities to make accommodations for students that need them in the athletic wing. The idea is to make access as easy as possible and barrier free,” D’Amico said, adding there are options for transgnder students in the athletic wing, as well.
First Selectman Jim Marpe said, “The state of Connecticut has been very clear in its approach to transgender identification and how it should work in schools, and ironically, by giving the responsibility back to the states, it allows us to reinforce the policies we follow as a school district and as a town.”
Students who are transgender are not required to use the unisex bathrooms and are free to use any restroom they identify with.
D’Amico also took a firm stance against Trump’s revocation of protections for transgender students, “I think this change is an unfortunate change simply because it marginalizes students based on who they are,” he said. “As educators, our job is to make sure that students are ready to learn and to create an environment in which they are ready to learn, and I think that decision is potentially damaging to them.”
Shortly after Trump’s action was announced, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy issued a scathing news release in response:
“Discrimination of this kind is outrageous and has no place in our society. This shouldn’t be a partisan issue — the President’s regressive actions must be rejected by all compassionate people, regardless of party affiliation. In 2011, I was proud to sponsor and help win passage for a comprehensive transgender rights bill here in Connecticut and to subsequently lead fights nationally against efforts in North Carolina, Indiana, and elsewhere to restrict the rights of people who are transgender. In Connecticut, we will defend the rights of all students — regardless of gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, race, ethnicity, and disability status — and will continue to protect their access to welcoming learning environments.”