NEW BUFFALO — The New Buffalo Area Schools Board of Education adopted a Student Rights policy related to Transgender Students during its May 22 regular meeting.
“Policy 5106 Transgender Students” opens with the following: The Board recognizes that transgender students, nationally and in Michigan, are targeted with physical violence and experience a hostile school environment more frequently than their peers. Supportive environments that acknowledge and affirm a student’s gender identity is a protective factor that improves health and educational outcomes. The Board supports protecting the rights of all students to self-identify and use the name, pronouns, and facilities that correspond with their gender identity. The Board prohibits unlawful discrimination, bullying, and harassment on the basis of sex, which includes sexual orientation and gender identity. The Board further prohibits unlawful discrimination, bullying, and harassment on the basis of gender, gender identity, gender expression, or gender-based stereotypes pursuant to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.
Interim Superintendent Dr. Michael Lindley said the policy talks specifically about anti-bullying, anti-discrimination and anti-harassment which the district does not allow on the basis of sex which includes sexual orientation and gender identity.
He also noted that the board previously decided to handle student requests to use facilities like restrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity on a case-by-case basis with gender-neutral bathrooms provided (he said two are currently in the high school and two in the middle school with another to be open near the gymnasium by the end of the week).
“I do think that this is an important policy, It’s probably a policy that’s a long time in coming and it does also require staff training,” he said.
Board member Brad Brunner said he was glad to hear administrators had talked to students while putting together a policy to help students flourish.
The policy was supported by several speakers during public comment portions of the May 22 meeting, with a student asking board members “Will you stand up and fight for us, will you fight for our rights? We are alongside you fighting for our lives,” prior to the vote.
Board President Lisa Werner told those who attended the meeting to support the policy “We feel you are trustworthy, we care about you and we want you to feel safe here in New Buffalo.”
Policy 5106 (which is effective immediately) also includes the following:
C. Initial Notification
The person best suited to determine a student’s Gender Identity is the individual student. A student will not be required to present legal or medical documentation of a gender transition when the student notifies the District of his, her, or their Gender Identity, preferred name, or Preferred Gender Pronouns. Once a student or the student’s parent/guardian notifies the District of the student’s Gender Identity, the District will meet with the student and the student’s parents, as appropriate, to discuss whether the student requires any accommodations or supports at school and how any needed supports will be communicated to staff and students. The District will ensure that all staff engage in reasonable and good faith efforts to address the student by the student’s preferred name and Preferred
The nature and type of supports the student may need at school may vary depending on the student’s age, grade level, abilities, family situation, and other factors. Any determination made about accommodations and supports for the student at school will take into account the student’s preferences, the parent(s)’s preferences, as appropriate, input from staff, and the most recent guidance from the U.S. Department of Education and the Michigan State Board of Education. A student may not have informed parents of the student’s Gender Identity. In that situation, disclosure to a student’s parents should be carefully considered on a case-by case basis. Administrators should involve the school counselor or social worker and consider the health, safety, and well-being of the student, as well as the school’s responsibility to keep parents informed, before making any disclosure.
D. Student Records
Upon request, if a student’s Gender Identity requires changes to student records, the District will make the appropriate changes, regardless of whether the student has “transitioned”, sought a legal name change, or taken other legal or medical action. This includes, but is not limited to, updating the District’s information systems, email addresses, class rosters, transcripts, and diplomas. The District will comply with reasonable requests to amend a former student’s secondary educational records, including diplomas and transcripts, after graduation, to ensure that those requesting records (e.g., college admissions office or potential employers) will only see the name and gender marker corresponding to the student’s stated gender identity.
E. Student Privacy
A student’s birth name and sex assigned at birth, or the fact that those differ from the student’s preferred name and Preferred Gender Pronouns is confidential information that constitutes personally identifiable information under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. The District will ensure that any information relating to a student’s Gender Identity or Gender Expression is kept confidential in accordance with applicable state, local, and federal privacy laws.
Unless authorized by law, District staff will not disclose information that may reveal a student’s birth name or sex assigned at birth, or that those differ from the student’s preferred name and Preferred Gender Pronouns to others, including parents and other school staff.
F. Restroom and Locker Room Access
Student requests to use facilities like restrooms and locker rooms consistent with a student’s Gender Identity will be addressed by the District on a case-by-case basis consistent with state and federal law and guidance. Alternative and non-stigmatizing options, like gender-neutral or single-user restrooms will be made available to all students who request them.
Also on May 22, the Board of Education approved 2023-2024 budget projections.
General Fund revenue is projected at $19,885,549 ($16,435,480 of it local). Expected General Fund expenditures (including the addition of one teacher at the HS/MS Level, Elementary Media Center remodeling, Smart Lab upgrades and high school parking lot repairs) are $20,972,780.
For 2023, 18 mills will be levied on all non-principal residence, non-qualified agricultural property, non-qualified forest property, non-supportive housing property, non-PSA-occupied property, and non-industrial property in the district to fund the majority of general operations (estimated revenue generated by this levy will be $14,834,980, or 75 percent of the district’s revenues).
Board of Education members on May 22 heard presentations on the Elementary B.A.S.E (Bison After School Enrichment) Program and the district’s Athletics Program.
B.A.S.E (Bison After School Enrichment) Program Director Madeline Selby talked about that Elementary School offering in the first of two presentations to the board.
The program is offered at no cost for New Buffalo Elementary pupils in kindergarten through the fifth grade (area costs are in the $180 to $195 per month range). About 100 to 110 students participated daily in the first trimester. During the current third trimester the daily average is 65 to 75 pupils (lower due to spring sports).
In addition to Selby BASE is staffed by Melissa Ashdown, Liz Hattam, Candice Cooney, Scott Bailey, Erika Johnson and Katrina Turensek with some high school students also helping out.
Selby said the first-ever BASE 5K Fun Run took place earlier in the day on May 22, organized with Maria Churchill and the school’s running club.
“We ended that with powder paint and silly string after they ran their 5K,” she said.
Other new activities for the current school year include: (K-2nd grade) Story time with Kristy Good from the New Buffalo Library, Hikes with Pat Fisher of Harbor Country Hikers, and Yoga Club with Colleen Neubauer; (3rd-5th grades) Chess Club with Carter Vravis, and Playing with Food with Jocelyne Tuszynski.
Selby said there was enough interest among kindergartners through third-graders to form a Girl Scout Troop.
The BASE Program includes Bison Ticket Incentives for good behavior (being respectful, responsible and safe) that can be used at the Base Buck Store.
Selby said she would like to organize more small field trips next school year so students can get more involved in the community.
Athletic Director Matt Johnson then made a presentation on the district’s athletic program, which he noted are the largest extracurricular activity offered. He later said having steady student participation even during COVID and a time of decreasing enrollment “speaks volumes to our kids who are still coming out and playing sports.”
Athletics includes 47 positions (35 of them coaches, including co-op programs) and 14 total sports offered including co-ops with Bridgman (boys tennis, swimming and diving) and River Valley (middle and high school wrestling and football).
A topic of discussion with board members during the presentation involved eligibility policies (based on a 2.0 grade point average based on a cumulative GPA at the beginning of a season and in-semester GPA during the season). It was noted that 105 of 114 students had no eligibility issues this school year. Johnson noted that five of the nine remaining students were able to get their grades in order so they could compete.
In response to a question from the board, Johnson said academic contracts with students allowing them to participate if they raise a sub-2.0 GPA by a specified amount and meet other requirements are used mostly for those coming in from outside districts or freshmen adjusting to high school. He said only 26 of these contracts have been written over the past eight years.
Highlights of the current school year include the New Buffalo-River Valley cooperative Red Arrow Raiders varsity football team going 6-3; the eighth-grade girls basketball team achieving an undefeated season; and six high school track athletes qualifying for the upcoming state meet.
Upcoming athletic department goals include building school-community-business relationships and partnerships; increasing athletic visibility, school spirit and student/parent volunteering; continuing to develop an appropriate skill and development plan from youth sports through high school; and establishing an athletic council with participation by students, parents and a board member.
On the subject of adding more cooperative programs with River Valley, Johnson said wrestling and football at both the middle and high school levels have been successful, while the potential need in softball (New Buffalo did not have enough players to field a team this spring while River Valley is varsity-only) and girls basketball is being looked at. He said middle school soccer also has been discussed (New Buffalo currently has a co-ed program).
In other May 22 New Buffalo Area Schools Board of Education matters:
• Lindley reported that the new Skatepark located across Clay Street from the Middle/High School will be dedicated at 4 p.m. Friday, June 2. A unique feature of the Skatepark will be five signs with barcodes that can be scanned allowing skateboarders to learn about the physics “at play” in the park. Physics Teacher Richard Eberly and his students developed the signage.
• Lindley announced that the 2023 graduation ceremony begins at 7:30 p.m. June 3 at the athletic complex (with fireworks planned after graduates have tossed their caps).
• Lindley said a new water fountain made possible by the New Buffalo Recreation Authority has been installed at the Elementary School.
• The board approved the 2023-2024 administrative contract for Curriculum Coordinator David Kelly.
• Board members agreed to employ Camille Bauer and Hannah Harrison as Summer School Teachers.
• Summer Day Camp appointments were approved.
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