New privacy policy at WHS

In a meeting with far less attendance than the month prior, the Waterloo School Board announced it would be considering a new policy addressing the concerns about accommodations for transgender students that prompted protests and discontent in March.

The policy comes following last month’s school board meeting where many members of the community spoke about transgender students using the bathroom  which aligns with their gender, with some speaking in support of these students and others expressing concerns about privacy and other matters.

While the board presented the policy for first reading later in the meeting, Waterloo Superintendent of Schools Brian Charron first brought up the policy in his superintendent’s report.

Charron noted that the district has, for many years, had accommodations for transgender students in line with state and federal law and guidelines, echoing a sentiment previously expressed by the board in a statement following the March board meeting.

“We’ve had numerous conversations with legal counsel in the process in regard to the district recognizing the accommodations for transgender students,” Charron said. “The district has been following law on this matter, law and guidance by the state board of education. It’s been not a formal process because there’s just a law that we’re following. The board is now considering tonight a policy – tonight is the first reading of that policy – that will formalize everything that we have been doing.”

Waterloo School Board Member John Caupert – who is also part of the district’s policy committee along with fellow Waterloo School Board Member Neil Giffhorn – spoke with some enthusiasm about the board’s work over the last month.

Caupert thanked the public for turning out to speak at the previous board meeting, responding to some criticism expressed during and after the meeting regarding the board’s lack of immediate response.

“As one of the senior members of this board, I want to go out and say we thank you for attending,” Caupert said. “More important than your attendance was you speaking up. We listened. It may not have seemed like it that night, but we listened.”

He added that, following the public portion of the meeting – including the extended public comment item on the agenda – the board returned to executive session for nearly two hours to discuss what members of the community had said.

Caupert further commended the board’s efforts in working toward a policy, noting that members of the board weren’t in unanimous agreement about how to move forward.

“I can say these weren’t seven people united on everything from moment one,” Caupert said. “We were not. I’m very proud of the job that our superintendent did. I’m very proud of my fellow policy committee member. I’m very proud of this entire board. It’s difficult to get two people to agree on what kind of pizza to order. This is a lot bigger issue than ordering a pizza.”

As Charron said, the board did not literally read the policy at the meeting, though it did end up approving the first reading as a later agenda item. Next month’s meeting is expected to see the second reading and potential adoption of the policy.

Charron further explained the policy would be presented to the public via an email to parents in the district Tuesday.

Further, Giffhorn and Charron noted that the public would have the opportunity to respond and offer feedback via a Google Form before the May board meeting.

The email was released shortly after the end of the school day Tuesday, containing a statement from the district echoing sentiments expressed in the meeting as well as links to the policy and Google Form.

The policy, written in a Google Doc titled “Gender Identity Plan Policy,” explained that the district maintains certain facilities designated as single-sex facilities including restrooms, changing rooms and locker rooms in which students maintain “a legitimate expectation of privacy.”

The policy notes that the board directs the superintendent to “develop age-appropriate safety rules for the use of private facilities, which will be included in the student handbook.”

It also states that the board presumes student will use these private facilities based on their biological sex unless a student has worked with a school social worker or counselor and administration to develop a Gender Identity Plan which identifies what restroom the student would use.

The student’s parents would need to agree to the Gender Identity Plan if the student is under the age of 18. Additionally, the student must review safety rules associated with the use of a bathroom and adhere to these rules.

Students are prohibited from using restrooms not associated with their biological sex unless expressly permitted. Those who do so without permission, regardless of gender identity, would be disciplined.

Additionally, students uncomfortable using a single-sex facility may request access to gender neutral bathrooms which would be identified following a meeting with the student and their parents.

The policy goes on to explain the aforementioned Gender Identity Plan, which essentially serves as an official step for transgender, gender non-conforming or nonbinary students to access gender accommodations.

A Gender Identity Plan would involve, according to the policy, a “lengthy discussion of all issues associated with a student’s gender identity,” including parent involvement and communication, student privacy, student names and pronouns, use of facilities and other concerns.

The policy also specifies safety rules for private facilities. These include students only using these facilities at appropriate times or with a pass from a teacher.

Students would also be expected to respect the privacy of other people in the restroom by not purposefully looking at or watching other people in a state of undress in the bathroom.

Charron also noted that various construction projects concerning Waterloo High School’s bathrooms are currently being discussed, including setting up stalls rather than just partitions at urinals in the boys’ bathrooms and replacing a computer lab – largely defunct thanks to most students having their own computer – with five individual occupancy bathrooms.

Both projects, Charron said, would be meant to address the expressed concerns about privacy in the bathrooms, with the urinal stall project possible over the summer while the more major bathroom additions would be a lengthier process.

Monday’s meeting also saw three members of the public address the board, though only Nancy Ballew was on the agenda to speak.

Ballew identified herself as a Waterloo resident for the last five years as well as a retired elementary school teacher who served as a substitute for some time after her retirement.

She described to the board how, several years ago, she substituted for a former student of hers who had become an elementary school teacher as well.

Though her students in third and first grade respected her and she was much beloved by her students and peers, Ballew said she recently heard about how this teacher left education to pursue a career in the corporate world.

Ballew used this anecdote to express concerns about teacher shortages that have cropped up in school districts across the country.

She suggested that a big reason many teachers are leaving might be additions to the curriculum – though she did not provide any specific examples – and what she described as a departure from the three R’s of education: reading, writing and arithmetic.

“Maybe it’s time to take a step back,” Ballew said. “Think about what’s important. Maybe not focus on all these other things that are coming at us but just get back to where we’re teaching the kids patriotism and love of learning and getting back to what really teaching’s about.”

Regarding other possible reasons teachers leave the profession, recent articles such as USA Today’s “‘I just found myself struggling to keep up’: Number of teachers quitting hits new high” and Vice’s “Teachers Are Quitting in Droves and Posting About It on TikTok” point to a broad sense of burnout.

Contributing to the described burnout in these articles are poor wages, heavy workloads and the politicization of teachers’ jobs including book bans.

Another speaker at the meeting was Zac Sheetz, who criticized the board’s late start times for school board meetings as well as it’s “reactive” rather than “proactive” response to last month’s bathroom debate.

He further expressed concerns about school safety in the district, though Charron pointed to safety measures taken with Waterloo schools, and Giffhorn noted that the board doesn’t discuss such matters publicly so as to avoid potential security issues.

Local veteran Ralph Axe also spoke at the meeting, expressing his concerns and disappointment about the bathroom situation.

Elsewhere in the meeting, action items for the board included the approvals of the amended budget for the coming school year and the district textbook rental, student fees and student cafeteria prices for next year.

The board also approved bids for the previously discussed tuckpointing project at Rogers Elementary, Gardner Elementary and Waterloo High School and the Junior High partial roof replacement project.

Several new district employees were also approved by the board, including two special education teachers, an elementary physical education teacher, a high school science teacher and a high school chorus teacher.

Within the district’s administrative reports, items of discussion included the results of SATs and other tests expected in the coming months as well as substantial progress made in improving the audio setup in the high school’s gym.

At the end of the meeting, Caupert took the time to offer his thanks to Waterloo School Board Member Gary Most, who will soon be serving as Waterloo Ward 4 alderman following the recent election.

Caupert commended Most for his contributions to the board, noting in particular his work helping to manage the district’s finances and spending.

“Gary, having served on this board but in particular on the finance committee and negotiations committee, Gary’s brought a unique and very distinct set of skills of digging into some areas that maybe some of the rest of us wouldn’t,” Caupert said. “Gary, it’s been a pleasure to serve with you. You’re gonna do great things in your new role.”

Caupert then insisted Most be the one to make the motion to adjourn the meeting, which he did.

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Andrew Unverferth

HTC web