D65 to revise policies to protect LGBTQ employees


Sneha Dey/Daily Senior Staffer

D65 community members at the Sept. 23 board meeting. The Evanston/Skokie School District 65 Board Policy Committee plans to revise policies and create procedures to protect transgender and gender-expansive employees.

Cassidy Wang, Assistant City Editor

The Evanston/Skokie School District 65 board policy committee requested policy revisions and procedures to protect transgender and gender-expansive employees at Monday’s meeting.

At a Sept. 23 board meeting, around 35 community members called for a policy change to protect LGBTQ employees from harrassment. Ren Heckathorne, a special education teacher at Park School, attended the school board meeting last month to voice their concerns. Wearing a shirt that said “still not safe” in pastel blue and pink lettering, they called out the district again at the Monday meeting.

“I want so desperately to find out this is all a bad dream,” Heckathorne said. “I want to open my eyes and find out I work for a district that believes LGBTQ+ lives matter, a district where the lives of queer people are celebrated and embraced. The bad news is that I am awake. This is not a dream. I’m working for a district that believes the lives of LGBTQ+ people do not belong in schools.”

Heckathorne filed a grievance in February 2017 against another District 65 employee for making hateful comments, including refusing to use their pronouns and telling other students to pray for Heckathorne’s salvation. Human resources found the complaint unfounded, and Heckathorne filed another complaint in April after a breach in confidentiality.

As Heckathorne and other parents, staff and students have started speaking out to the board, they also voiced other concerns about the safety of LGBTQ staff and students. Sergio Hernandez, chair of the policy board, apologized for failing to address the community’s concerns faster.

“Equity isn’t easy,” Hernandez said. “We get to be critical of ourselves as we move forward with the process. Folks who have not been heard before are now at the table.”

The school board requested policy changes to include transgender and gender expansive employees as a protected group. The disctrict revised the non-discrimination policy to include “gender or gender identity whether or not traditionally associated with the person’s designated sex at birth; gender-related identity or expression.” The board requested the same language in the district’s revised prohibition against workplace harassment.

The board plans to vote on the policy at the next board meeting, hire a consultant and engage stakeholders in the process.

Heckathorne said they and other teachers have spent early mornings this past year writing a policy for the district. However, they said the group struggled to integrate protections into the school policy without administrative support. Though the board is now creating these changes, Heckathorne said a policy could be in place by now.

Board president Suni Kartha said the board will use the group’s work as the foundation for policy changes in the future.

“It’s our bad for not moving forward on it sooner,” Kartha said. “We should have taken over in the middle of multiple transitions. The work got lost. I apologize for that. We are now trying to make ourselves accountable so that doesn’t happen again.”

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