During the school board meeting on Sept. 28, a standing-room crowd listened to comments from the public about the district's new gender toolkit. Photo by Jeanne Souldern

Rumors of an anti-LGBTQIA+ protest at the Sept. 28 Roaring Fork School District (RFSD) board meeting never came to fruition. What happened instead was a standing-room-only crowd, respectfully listening and contributing to public feedback on the district’s presentation of their “Toolkit for Supporting Transgender & Gender Expansive/Nonconforming Students.”
Known informally as the gender toolkit, it offers resources for best practices to support transgender and gender-expansive students. According to a report, presented to the board by Dr. Anna Cole, chief of student and family services, the toolkit was developed by Roaring Fork Schools to “affirm our commitment to inclusion and belonging for all students and staff members in our schools; uphold American civil rights law and principles of individual rights; and provide clarity for students and others who are asking for guidance.”
The Friday before the board meeting, Superintendent Dr. Jesús Rodríguez sent an open letter via email to staff, families and the RFSD community, which began with, “I want to express our strong support for our LGBTQIA+ students and staff because it is important that all students and staff feel safe, valued and welcomed in our schools.”
Rodríguez also wrote an op-ed article, published in the Sept. 27 edition of the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, titled “Sense of belonging can save lives”. In it, he stated that one of the strategies within the Roaring Fork Schools strategic plan is to “create an intentional culture of character in which habits of a scholar flourish and all students feel a strong sense of safety and belonging.”
Dr. Cole told the board that when the 2019 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey data was released, “we recognized that there were some real concerns about inclusion, belonging, marginalization [and] mental health — especially for that specific group of students — and we recognized that we were missing the mark in supporting that particular group of students.”
Those findings showed that LGBTQIA+ youth experience higher levels of hopelessness and depression, more frequent incidents of harassment and are at higher risk of suicide than their cisgender peers. At that time, a task force returned to the Student Services Team with several recommendations “to do better by our kids,” Cole said.
Thirty-two people signed up to speak during the meeting’s allotted 45-minute public comment period, but time allowed for only 20 commenters, with a majority voicing their support for the gender toolkit and conveying their appreciation of Rodríguez’s support for LGBTQIA+ students and staff members.
A handful of speakers were critical of the toolkit and cited concerns over bathroom and locker-room use by transgender or gender-nonconforming students.
During public comment, Jax Carpenter, a Roaring Fork High School senior, shared, “I recently was able to change my name in the school records, and it has made a huge difference in me feeling comfortable at school and seen. It has really made going to school a lot easier because instead of worrying about being deadnamed [referred to as a former name before transitioning gender], or the wrong pronouns being used, I just kind of have to worry about, ‘Okay, what homework do I have?’”
Speaking to The Sopris Sun, Carpenter said, “I was expecting to be outnumbered. I was expecting there to be a lot more anti-LGBTQ sentiment in the discussion, and I was really, really so grateful and so happy that people made me feel like I’m not alone.”
With a full board in attendance, they affirmed their support for the gender toolkit, and board member Kenny Teitler, noting depression and suicide rates for LGBTQIA+ youth, offered, “We all can have our feelings and beliefs, and everybody is entitled to the beliefs they have, but the statistics go beyond beliefs.”
Rodríguez, a guest on the Sept. 29 live broadcast of The Sopris Sun’s “Everything Under the Sun” radio show on KDNK, shared that while the gender toolkit is not district policy, it “is a resource for all of our staff to learn more, if they so wish. And also, again, if a student is coming to them as a trusted adult, seeking support, it’s a tool for them to know how to respond.”
You can read Superintendent Rodríguez’s letter to RFSD staff and families in Spanish and English at www.bit.ly/RFSDLGBTQ
A recording of the board meeting can be viewed on the “Roaring Fork Schools” YouTube channel.