More than a year after their concerns were raised in a failed attempt to change school policies, transgender student rights advocates have more chances to be heard, say Lakota school officials.
But no new proposed changes have since been made by district officials changing student rights for transgender students
In December 2017 the issue drew wide attention in the Butler County district as some LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender) supporters lobbied in a failed effort to convince Lakota’s school board to expand transgender rights by broadening the district’s current student policy.
The transgender rights debate was followed soon after by district officials’ accusations against a Lakota special needs teacher – and a leader of local LGBT advocates – negligence of her professional duties.
That was then countered by a lawsuit filed by the teacher in federal court contending she had been targeted by Lakota officials for here advocacy work on the behalf of LGBT students.
Though the Lakota Board of Education voted 3-2 in defeating the December 2017 proposal to expand district policies to greater accommodate LGBT students – especially transgender students – district officials quickly announced at the time the creation of the district’s first Lakota Outreach, Diversity and Inclusion (LODI) department.
District officials tout the department’s work, which includes expanded sexual orientation training for teachers and staffers, as setting up more communication between students, their families and other supporters of transgender students.
Lakota officials have contended their current policies provide enough protection and accommodation for transgender students without additional stipulations.
“Over the past year, we have continued to work to ensure that the learning environment is one in which all of our students feel safe and secure, and is free from all forms of discrimination, harassment and intimidation,” Lakota Superintendent Matt Miller said this week.
“In the past year, the Lakota Outreach Diversity and Inclusion department was formed to not only help facilitate acceptance of one another but to celebrate our differences.
“Working with our (transgender and other-oriented sexuality) community, members of LODI recently held a CommUnity University session on gender identity. We have also held a community conversation on the same topic. These are two examples of programs that are supported by our school board and offer the opportunity for not only board members, but district administrators, to listen to the thoughts and feelings of our students and parents.”
The new inclusion and diversity department will recommend possible changes to Lakota’s current policies addressing transgender student rights but “not in the near future,” said school officials in December 2017 when LODI was formed.
The Lakota LODI department’s responsibilities will include “reviewing current administrative guidelines and procedures already in place that protect Lakota’s most vulnerable students,” said district officials at the time of its creation.
“They will collaborate with staff, students and content experts to study current practices and then introduce measures that help ensure district-wide consistency and transparency in implementation,” officials said last year.
There have been no proposed changes to Lakota’s policy since LODI’s formation.
Lakota special needs teacher Emilly Osterling’s state-mandated mediation hearing on her employment termination had been postponed from its original fall scheduling and the process is still on-going, said Lakota officials, who declined further comment.
Since her lawsuit filing in September, Osterling has declined repeated requests to comment.
Miller said “we continue to be student-focused while also complying with federal and state laws concerning our students’ civil rights. We have also continued to provide professional development for our staff on how to make schools safe for students who identify as (transgender and other-oriented sexuality), as well as how to support the social and emotional needs of all students.
“The Lakota Schools policy — and its associated administrative guidelines — clearly states that the district does not discriminate on the basis of sex, including sexual orientation and transgender identity. Any reports of harassment will be thoroughly investigated by district administrators and professional staff,” he said.