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New Title IX regulations slow Foster School Committee's quest to alter transgender student policy

Subcommittee Chair Dupuis hints that a Trump Presidency might make changing the policy more likely

Editor's note: This article was originally published on Steve Alquist's reader-supported Substack on May 09, 2024. It is reprinted here with his permission.

Foster, RI School Committee Policy Subcommittee
The Foster School Committee's Policy Subcommittee meets on Tuesday, May 07, 2024. (Steve Ahlquist)

The importance of the next presidential election as it relates to trans rights was made clear in the most recent Foster School Committee - Policy Subcommittee meeting on Tuesday evening held to consider changes to the district’s Transgender, Gender [Diverse], and Transitioning Students Students Policy. Speaking on the impact of the Biden Administration's new regulations around Title IX, Foster School Committee Subcommittee Chair Aaron Dupuis noted that “Title IX regulations can also change with the election coming up” implying that a second Trump Administration might make it easier for school districts to discriminate against transgender, gender-diverse, and transitioning children and their families.

[Note: The new U.S. Department of Education Title IX Regulations from the Biden Administration seek to ensure “that no person experiences sex discrimination, including sex-based harassment or sexual violence, in federally funded education.” You can read more here. The same issue seems to have slowed down the Westerly School Committee’s process of rewriting their Transgender, Gender [Diverse], and Transitioning Students students policy. See: Westerly plan to rewrite Transgender, Gender Diverse, and Transitioning Student Policy crashing into reality]

Tuesday’s discussion was a continuation, of sorts, of the April 4 Subcommittee meeting which went nowhere because the Committee’s Attorney, Gregory Piccirilli, and Committee member Amy Ferreira were not in attendance. [You can view that meeting here.][You can see the full Foster School Committee meeting that precipitated this Subcommittee here: As the Foster-Glocester School Committee takes up its transgender student policy, there are warning lights]

You can watch the relevant parts of Tuesday’s Subcommittee meeting here, and read the transcript, edited for clarity, below (video is about 15 minutes long):

Committee member Aaron Dupuis: I'd like to call the meeting of the Foster School Committee - Policy Subcommittee to order. Our policy for discussion tonight is the [Transgender, Gender [Diverse], and Transitioning Students] policy. We had a little bit of a discussion last meeting. Amy, unfortunately, you were not here. But we were going over some guidelines we were looking at. Greg wasn't here either, and we were hoping to receive his input because one of the things that we were waiting on was to see what RIDE said in terms of our policy, especially with Greg talking back and forth with the lawyer from RIDE. Thankfully, Greg is here tonight to give us his input.

Attorney Gregory Piccirilli: I don't have much to add since the last school committee. The last communication I had with RIDE's attorney was that we felt we had the right to develop our own policy or stick with the policy we have, and that the Policy Subcommittee would be reviewing that. I haven't heard back anything from RIDE's attorney. But having said that, as you all know, just within the last few weeks the federal government has come out with the Title IX regulations.

I have not had a chance to thoroughly review those. Most of those regulations seem to apply to colleges and universities and how they deal with sexual harassment, assault-type claims, and things like that. I think a fair amount of those regulations are relevant to you, but there do appear to be some [that do apply], and also I do not think [our Transgender, Non-Discrimination, and Gender Nonconforming policy] mentions anything about sports. I think that was left out of [our policy]. But again, that [part of the new Title IX regulations] wouldn't apply to you.

The only thing I think that I saw that would be relevant is perhaps bathroom use. Again, in elementary grades, I think that might be somewhat different. Then, of course, there are all kinds of legal challenges. The [new Title IX regulations] don't take effect until August 1st. So my advice to you right now is not to do anything. I mean, if you have some thoughts you want to start working on and possible revisions that you think might be good, you certainly can do that. But I don't think I would make a final decision on changes to the policy until we get that all straightened out. RIDE might put out some guidance between now and August 1st as to what they think the Title IX regulations are, but then again, they may not.

Aaron Dupuis: And again, Title IX regulations can also change with the election coming up and everything else, correct?

Gregory Piccirilli: Potentially, although it is a process. I mean, President Trump changed the regulations [in] 2019 or 2018, [and] that took a few years for his administration and now it's taken three years into the new administration. There's a process. They can't just change it overnight - well, there are some legal issues with that too.

I think there's a lot of analysis that has to be done before we know the impact of these new regulations. The important point I tried to make at the last meeting was [that] you haven't had any issues. [Changing this policy] wasn't something that came up because people in the district were complaining about [it] one way or the other. You have two principals and your superintendent managing the district very well, and there have been no issues for the last six years these policies have been in place. So if it ain't broke, why fix it? I just don't see the need to have any rush to do it.

Committee member Patricia Henry: How do we compare, Greg, with other school districts in the state?

Gregory Piccirilli: In terms of the policy? Our policy is different because it doesn't verbatim follow the guidance. [There are] a couple of reasons for that. One, you're an elementary school district, so you don't have things like locker rooms and sports, notifying parents... I don't know what the new regulations will say, but even the RIDE guidance recognizes that for the elementary grades, notifying parents is a lot different from notifying the parents of a 16 or 17-year-old. That's why they were crafted the way they were because I just try to follow the state [policy] [as to] what categories they had, and keep [our policy] pretty general. And it worked, because like I said, you have tremendous leadership with your administrative team and there were no issues brought up. In other districts, whether they want to be provocative one way or the other by putting things in there, it's different at a high school.

Patricia Henry: Even Foster? Foster has one little elementary school. I wonder what their policy looks like.

Gregory Piccirilli: I have no idea what their policy is.

Committee member Amy Ferreira: Has anybody? Have you seen Foster's policy?

Aaron Dupuis: I've not seen Foster's policy.

Amy Ferreira: Should we get it?

Gregory Piccirilli: Why not?

Amy Ferreira: We also looked at the region and I don't know - my question, to anybody who has read it, is that I feel like we go into so much nuance and it's very detailed about every aspect of this. I don't know - are people comfortable with how detailed our current policy is about the [transition?] plans? I mean, I'm just curious.

Patricia Henry: Do you think it's a little too detailed?

Amy Ferreira: Certain sections of it. I just feel like, I don't know. [Does RIDE's policy] go into so much detail about names and pronouns and how we handle that? I don't know. I just feel like it gets pretty deep.

Aaron Dupuis: I believe it does. I think so.

Amy Ferreira: I didn't notice that part.

[What follows is a discussion about a policy in another school that turns out to have been misread by the Committee member. Interested parties can watch the above video beginning at 6:42.]

Gregory Piccirilli: When we were developing this [policy] back in 2018, and I talked with the principals and [Superintendent Patricia Dubois], this is what the practice was the policy [was written] and they said it worked. They had no issues with it. It would be like an IP meeting, you would meet and have a consensus about it.

Now, the only thing I noticed, and I don't think it was an issue at the time - if, for example, a staff member had an objection to using the pronoun... If you had a religious staff member - there have been cases where you have a staff member who has a religious belief and doesn't want to [use the preferred pronoun for] whatever reason. But usually, in those cases, there is a compromise worked out. Instead of using pronouns, they'll just use a neutral name or something. There are ways to work. They come to some kind of consensus as opposed to saying “One size fits all, this is how you're going to do it.”

Aaron Dupuis: But again, we haven't had those issues.

Gregory Piccirilli: This has not been an issue [here in Foster].

Amy Ferreira: What about the issues RIDE [informed us about]? They didn't clarify what we should do, but they made statements that we were supposed to update certain things, right?

Gregory Piccirilli: They had five bullet points. The first bullet point, [RIDE Attorney] Anthony Cattone agreed with me, [was to include an] explicit reference to [the] regulations. We made the reference, so he admitted that that was not relevant.

The second one, about training, they were asking us not only to train staff but to have students be trained. We found that to be...

Amy Ferreira: Right, to put it in the health curriculum was not helpful?

Gregory Piccirilli: I think we agreed to disagree on that point and just left it.

Patricia Henry: To me, that seems like we're selling, we're pushing.

Aaron Dupuis: I also feel that there's already so much crammed down our throats in terms of curriculum from RIDE. To add one more thing, what's going to be taken out, you know I mean?

Gregory Piccirilli: Again, you're an elementary school. Yeah. So do you want kindergartners to be trained on this?

Amy Ferreira: Right. The health curriculum with K to 5 is different...

Gregory Piccirilli: But I did not get a direct statement from RIDE saying, “You either do this or we're going to come after you.” It was more along the lines of, “You sure you don't want to consider it?”

Amy Ferreira: Gotcha.

Gregory Piccirilli: Three, the gender transition guidance... it's not a statement. The only thing that I did notice, going back over the guidance was a section on elementary schools, which is not bad because it does recognize the difference in an elementary school and that parents should be notified. It's a different concept than you might have in a secondary school. The issue with the equity lens, I found that [to be] gibberish, and I don't think they had an answer to that. And of course, the locker rooms were not an issue [because we are an elementary school].

To me, this was someone from RIDE who just sent out a mass [email], and was going over a policy...

Amy Ferreira: Generic responses -

Gregory Piccirilli: ...with pigeonholed ideas without any type of analysis and ... looking for a problem [when] there was no problem. I don't think anything that was in that letter or email from that RIDE person...

Patricia Henry: Aisha.

Gregory Piccirilli: ...whatever her position was, I don't think any of it was relevant. The only thing that's going to be relevant going forward is to see if there's anything in the [new] federal regulations or how the state might...

Amy Ferreira: …implement.

Gregory Piccirilli [Turning to the two members of the public attending the meeting]: I mean, you can see there doesn't seem to be much of a public outcry, one way or the other, for you to do anything.

Aaron Dupuis: So I think our best bet might be to wait for the...

Gregory Piccirilli [Turning to the two members of the public attending the meeting]: Any public outcry back there?

Sean [member of the public]: On-demand, if you need it.

Aaron Dupuis: I think our best bet is just to hold off and see what the new Title IX regs look like. See if guidance has come down from the state. This might not be until January of next year, possibly, or a little later.

Gregory Piccirilli: As I understand it's August 1st, [that the new Title IX regulations] take effect. We'll see if there's litigation in other states that might affect it one way or the other. But I would say probably by the beginning of school [September?] we'll have a better idea of whether or not you need to do something or just keep doing what you're doing because you're doing it right. Whatever it is, you're doing it right. There has not been a single complaint one way or the other over the last six years. I think that's a compliment to your staff as much as anything else.

Aaron Dupuis: I'm fine with that. It's only the end of the year. We don't need a vote to table this...

Gregory Piccirilli: No, it's a Subcommittee. It's very informal.

[The rest of the meeting was on other policies. After the meeting, as I was taking down my camera…]

Patricia Henry: Are you coming to our next meeting? [Committeemember Henry was referring to the full meeting of the Foster School Committee starting in 10 minutes.]

Steve Ahlquist: I don't think so. No.

Gregory Piccirilli [Joking]: Good. That's when we can get all the secret stuff in.

Steve Ahlquist: That would be problematic for sure.


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