Mahwah Student Gender Identity Policy Sparks Debate Over Parental Rights and Student Protection

In a recent Mahwah School Board meeting, discussions surrounded Policy 5756, which pertains to the communication of students’ gender identity to parents. The policy’s provisions sparked debate among parents about their rights to be informed about their child’s gender identity experiences. This comes amidst broader district updates including the reappointment of Dr. Michael DeTuro as Superintendent and the successful launch of the school year.

Policy 5756 emerged as a focal point of concern during the meeting’s public comments portion. The policy does not mandate schools to inform parents if their child is grappling with gender identity issues. Proponents at the meeting argued this approach protects vulnerable students, while detractors suggested it is an infringement on parental rights.

Dr. Lou Theodorou inquired about the policy, noting noting that it had been revealed the recommendation by the governor’s office to adopt such policies was not mandatory, but merely a suggestion. He expressed his concerns related to parental rights and communication with parents about any gender crisis a child might be undergoing. “To me, it gets back to parental rights and it would not allow the school, in certain circumstances, to communicate a gender crisis that a child might be going through to the student’s parents, which to me is silly,” Theodorou said.

Responding to this, a board representative acknowledged the ongoing litigation around the policy and expressed understanding of parents’ concerns. They emphasized the importance of including parents in communications when children need support, highlighting the school’s effort to work alongside parents. “We understand the importance of parents being a part of that communication loop when their children need support,” the representative mentioned. They indicated that while there are legal aspects to the policy, the board would review it and discuss possible adjustments.

Resident Regina Tumi Bueno highlighted the vulnerability of LGBTQ+ students, emphasizing the greater risks they face, from bullying to suicide. Supporting this sentiment, Susan Steinberg, Director of the Mahwah Pride coalition, cited alarming statistics on LGBTQ youth, such as 41% having considered suicide. Steinberg made a passionate plea for schools to be a haven for students, especially those wrestling with their identities.

Outside of the policy discussion, the Board of Education and Superintendent, Dr. Michael DeTuro, have come to an agreement on a new five-year contract. This development was positively received, with many considering Dr. DeTuro’s compensation to be both “fair and competitive.”

In other updates, Dr. Matthew Park presented data from the Student Seek system, highlighting its role in tracking offenses like violence and substance abuse. The system also monitors district training programs that touch on cyberbullying, conflict resolution, and school culture. Furthermore, an equity audit update was given, with findings set to be shared with the community in a November board meeting.

Student involvement was also celebrated during the meeting. Six students, Mason, Ethan, Lauren, Bobby, and Varsha, were acknowledged for their participation in an opening day program that moved many staff members to tears. Additionally, senior student representative, Max Ingerman, shared plans for the upcoming pep rally and spirit week, scheduled to kick off on October 13th.

The completion of various school projects and an update on the district’s improved interest rate earnings were some of the topics covered by board members.

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