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RFSD board approves support for LGBTQIA+ students

Locations: News Published

On Oct. 26, at a regular meeting of the Roaring Fork School District Board of Education, in a 5-0 vote, a resolution was approved supporting the district’s LGBTQIA+ students.

Before the meeting, a group of parents and local LGBTQIA+ advocates held what was billed as a tailgate party on the lawn in front of the district offices at 400 Sopris Avenue, Carbondale. Two small party tents were set up to greet supporters, with rainbow flags and stickers being handed out and an opportunity to visit with others before going inside for the meeting.

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Glenwood Springs resident Erik Hesselman, a 27-year-old who attended Yampah Mountain High School in his senior year, was at the party and meeting. “I’m here to show support and solidarity for all the young people that this board meeting basically discusses. I was thinking back to when I was a teen in high school, and I would have not been nearly as brave to come to one of these things, so now I feel like it’s my time to show support for new kids that might need it,” he said.

The resolution’s language acknowledges that topics around gender identity may be new territory for some community members to understand, stating, “… The Board recognizes that we are in a moment of rapid societal change, and district students, teachers, and administrators are telling us they are confused by changing mores regarding gender and gender identity; and that laws are changing alongside society’s growing awareness.”

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Director Kenny Teitler reiterated, “Our [The board’s] mission will be that every student has the knowledge, skills and character to thrive, and the last two words are in a ‘changing world,’ and we are in a changing world at this point.”

The Toolkit for Supporting Transgender & Gender Expansive/Non-Conforming Students, known informally as the gender toolkit, “reaffirms its [the District’s] commitment to policies that support and represent the diverse students, staff, and families in our communities,” the resolution stated. It also advances efforts toward the safety and inclusion of all students, regardless of their gender identity.

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A snowy day may have discouraged some community members from attending. Although the meeting room was full, there were not as many people as were at the Oct. 12 meeting when the gender toolkit was first introduced. 

Board President Kathryn Kuhlenberg reported they received 36 written comments ahead of the Oct. 26 meeting. In the public comment portion of the meeting, speakers in support of adopting the resolution outnumbered those opposing, nine to 4.

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Lynne Kerst, a Roaring Fork Valley resident for 40 years, whose late husband was a school board member in the ‘80s, opened her remarks by saying, “I come here in love and not hate.” Requesting that the board postpone their decision, she asked them “to dig a little bit deeper into all aspects related to safety and mental health, not only this group but also of your other students” who attend Roaring Fork schools.

Kerst voiced concern for the district “to not elevate one people group above another for this attention” when dealing with bullying and mental health issues.

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Dr. Brandy Drake is an emergency medicine and palliative care doctor and has three children in Roaring Fork schools, one of whom is gender-diverse.

Drake researched information about gender diversity, and based on the science and the data she found, she reported: “the biology underlying sex and gender is much more complicated and nuanced than we thought … The gender binary is a social construct that limits all of us.” She continued, saying, “I also learned that my child is at risk for suicide, mental health problems, substance abuse and homelessness.”

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However, Drake emphasized, “support from me, my family, my friends, my school, my community can bring my child’s risks to normal. My child need never feel dysphoric about who they are.” She concluded by thanking the school district for their action in “possibly literally saving my child’s life” by working with her family and community in “creating a safe space for them.”

Board Vice President Jasmin Ramirez said, “I always appreciate when we have parents who come and share not only their lived experience, but also their differing viewpoints. I think, for us as a board, to continue to have student achievement, student wellness, student growth, student academics and student mental health at the center of all the work that we do is incredibly vital.”

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You can view the archived meeting on the “Roaring Fork Schools” YouTube channel.

Tags: #gender #inclusion #LGBTQIA+ #RFSD #roaring fork schools
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