Debate surrounded the March Central York School District Board Meeting regarding the inclusion of the term “gender identity” into the school district’s anti-discrimination policy.
The meeting drew widespread public attendance. With over 50 seats available, more chairs were brought in to accommodate the overflow.
The first to speak during initial public commentary was Mindy Waltemyer, who had expressed her outspoken support of the measure the previous month when the board put the new policy measure in place for a temporary trial period.
Waltemyer spoke from a prepared statement.
“High school is both an exciting and terrifying time in any student’s life,” she began with earnest sincerity, her voice clear and her typed speech held firmly between her hands.
“It is a time of self-identification and self-expression, learning who they are and how they fit into society and the world at large.” She paused. The room quieted down to hear her.
“It is also a time when all students will meet their greatest critics, encounter bullies, and face some of their toughest personal questions regarding self-dignity and self-worth. This is all the more true of students that question the role of gender within their lives, as they face the most discrimination and the highest suicide rates.”
Another pause, using the silence to emphasize the topic’s seriousness.
“The institution itself is designed to protect ALL students, both in terms of the building, the staff, and the policies.” Her voice began to crack with emotion, her hands started to quiver, and the paper pulled taunt between them audibly rattled into the microphone.
The previous month, board members who opposed the temporary measure did so on the basis of either religion or argued that because the policy in place states that “all students” would be covered, adding another specific term such as “gender identity” to an already long list including race, color, national origin/ethnicity, sex, age, disability, sexual orientation, or religion, was unnecessary.
Waltemyer did not agree with those sentiments.
“Every student that walks through the doors of Central York schools should feel safe, valued, and affirmed. Diversity in our schools, and our society, should be celebrated openly and safeguarded rigorously.” Nods of affirmation came from the crowd and board members who had previously supported the measure. Those who had spoken in opposition continued to hold their somber demeanor.
“The fact that this subject is up for discussion,” Waltemyer continued, “and that there are challengers to its inclusion, is exactly the reason why we need and have anti-discrimination policies.” She looked to those previous nay-sayers as though she hoped her words might move them.
“To say ‘no’ to the inclusion of the term ‘gender identity’ is to discriminate against those who identify as gender-nonconforming, and to deny protections to those students,” Waltemyer said. Taking a final pause to reflect upon what she’d expressed and making eye contact with all board members, she said, “I respectfully request that the board adopt the addition to the policy and implement it in a fair and safe manner, as they have already been doing on a case-by-case basis. Thank you,” she concluded.
For a long few moments after, the room remained silent, yet electric.
The next public commentator no longer had children in the district, though she apparently continued to attend every board meeting and spoke at every opportunity to the board with religious conviction. She called on the board to block the measure from passing, based upon what many believe is disproven science, biblical allegory, and subjective morality.
When the board debated the issue before them, many directly quoted Waltemyer’s words in support of inclusion. Those who spoke against inclusion based their objections on personal religious beliefs, not on setting aside the separation of church and state in a public school setting. The student body representative, who normally does not speak unless directly addressed, voluntarily assured the board that this measure was wholeheartedly welcomed by students.
A few board members voiced their concern for the ongoing Third Circuit Court of Appeals case and possible Superior Court ruling one way or the other about such inclusionary language within educational institutions. They, however, found no support from the district’s legal counsel, who too spoke favorably about the measure. A “good faith” request to table the debate until the final court ruling came through did not pass.
However, the final motion to adopt the policy change did. Six in favor, three against.
Following the vote, during a second public comment period, one woman expressed gratification that the measure passed. One man condemned the decision, likening the entire anti-discrimination policy to “a free hand out.”