SEARSMONT — The Regional School Unit 71 Board of Directors continued its discussion on a proposed gender-equity policy before approving it during its Nov. 28 meeting at Ames Elementary School.

Policy ACAAA is aimed at fostering a learning environment that is safe and free from discrimination, harassment and bullying. The policy also seeks to assist in the educational and social integration of transgender and gender-expansive students in RSU 71.

During the first reading of the policy on Nov. 14, several board members questioned a section of the policy regarding parent/guardian notification.

This section reads: “In the case of a student who has not yet informed their parent(s)/guardian(s) (to identify as transgender or gender-expansive), the administrator should first discuss parent/guardian involvement with the student to avoid inadvertently putting the student at risk by contacting their parent(s)/guardian(s). The student will be notified by the administrator prior to contacting their parent(s)/guardian(s).”

At issue was whether the administrator was required to notify parent(s)/guardians(s) of their child’s decision to identify as transgender or gender-expansive. The language in the policy gives the superintendent and school administrators some latitude in notification on a case-by-case basis. Several directors felt the language was unspecific on this issue. Those concerns were raised again during the Nov. 28 meeting.

“Is parental involvement the same for an elementary school student, a middle school student, and a high school student?” asked Director Jean Dube. “A 10-year-old is very different from a 17-year-old.”

RSU 71 Superintendent Mary Alice McLean noted that application of the policy was similar for students at all grade levels.

“It is the same,” McLean responded. “Parents have a right to all educational information regarding their student, but our intention and our practice is to work extremely hard with students and their families to understand the situation.”

Dube asked what protection is given to students who do not fit under the policy.

“One of the great advantages of our high school renovation project, and all the other renovation projects we have done, is that we have single-choice, gender-neutral bathrooms,” McLean said. “Those appear to meet the needs of students and their families that might be concerned about that.”

Director Ryan Harnden looked at similar policies in several neighboring school districts.

“They have this exact policy,” Harnden said of those districts, “except for the notification part. Where did the notification part come from?”

Director Elizabeth Burnett advised Harnden that “this was the exact language we received from our attorney.”

Harnden noted the language seemed to imply that parents would be notified, without actually requiring notification.

“What we’re up against is a lack of clarity in the law itself,” McLean said. “It’s not a matter of settled law yet. What I hope everyone takes away from this is that RSU 71 partners with parents and families to give them all the educational experience they request about their student. When we’re in a delicate situation and the child is terrified, we work extremely hard to create a bridge between the student and their family.”

Burnett said the latitude in the language should be viewed as beneficial.

“That’s the beauty of this policy,” Burnett said. “It doesn’t mandate us outing kids. It says our administration is trained and understands how to handle these situations.”

The board then voted to approve the policy.

Also approved at the Nov. 28 meeting were policies covering class size, student immunizations and student discipline.

In other business, the Board of Directors accepted an offer from Siemens to conduct a free energy audit of district schools. Directors also heard first readings of policy updates regarding the expulsion of students, student code of conduct, and bidding and purchasing requirements. Those policies will be up for approval at the RSU 71 Board of Directors meeting Dec. 12.