School board passes gender inclusivity and sex offender policies

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The Blaine school district board of directors held a special meeting on January 13 to discuss updates to several policies – one relating to treatment of transgender students and others that govern access to school property for sex offenders.

The board held a special meeting for the first readings of the policies because the district hopes to approve the policies by the end of the month. The board will hold a second reading and vote on the policies at its January 27 regular meeting.

Gender inclusivity policy

Under a new state law, school districts in Washington have until the end of the month to adopt a transgender student policy that incorporates language from the Washington State School Directors’ Association’s (WSSDA) model policy.

The Blaine school district already has a gender inclusivity policy aimed at making sure students are not discriminated against based on gender. The school board considered several updates to the policy to comply with WSSDA’s recommendations.

School district policies are often based on WSSDA’s model policies.

Updates to the policy include:

• The district will include information about how a student wants to be addressed in class and in correspondence with their parent/guardian in the student’s electronic record to inform school staff of the student’s preferred name and pronouns.

• Blaine schools will allow any student, regardless of gender identity, to be given access to an alternative restroom if they request more privacy.

• Schools will provide accommodations to allow the student to keep their gender status private.

• The district will designate one person to be the primary contact regarding policy and procedure relating to transgender or gender expansive students. The primary contact must participate in at least one training opportunity offered by the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Sex offender policies

The district also approved a first reading of several policies relating to convicted sex offenders at the special meeting in order to have policies in place which are in line with other Whatcom County schools by February 1.

Superintendents from all Whatcom County public schools worked together on updating sex offender policies, with help from the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office and legal counsel, Blaine superintendent Christopher Granger said at the meeting. If all the districts in the county approve the policy by February 1, the sheriff’s office can notify level 2 and 3 sex offenders that they’re not permitted on the property of any school district in the county. Level 2 and 3 offenders are those with a higher risk of reoffending.

The policy update states that offenders can apply for permission to enter school grounds to participate in specific educational or recreational activities, or other purposes. School principals can approve the requests and place extra conditions on the offenders.

“We all want to keep our students safe, but we also know that offenders have children and they have the right to be a part of their child’s educational process, and we want to respect both pieces of that puzzle,” Granger said at the meeting.

All seven Whatcom County school district superintendents plan to approve similar policies, Granger said. County superintendents started working on these policies after parents of students at Northern Heights Elementary School in Bellingham became concerned about a convicted sex offender on that campus.

The updated school district policies are on the school district’s website under the “Board Docs” link here: bit.ly/2FOfJxF.

Update: This story has been updated to reflect the fact that the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office and legal counsel was involved with writing the new policies regarding sex offenders on school property.

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