Columbia public schools inch closer to changing nondiscrimination policy

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COLUMBIA - The Columbia Board of Education unanimously approved a second read of its nondiscrimination policy and student discipline policy at Monday's meeting. The new policy, which covers both district employees and students, proposes adding the terms "gender identity" and "gender expression" to existing policy. 

Eight different members of the audience spoke up in favor of the policy, including mom Stephanie Dorman. Dorman has two children in Columbia Public Schools and said both of her children have been victims of bullying.

"As a kindergartner, Adele dressed in her Spider-Man outfit," she said. 

When Adele boarded the bus, Dorman said kids asked her why she was dressed like a boy. 

"Her younger brother who has big blue eyes and long eyelashes, and he wears earrings in both ears, and he wears pink and bright orange clothes," she said. "The kids see his gender non-conforming choices and ask him what his gender is, and why he chooses to do that, and if he's gay...and I wonder why that even matters." 

Dorman said the new policies not only help people who are transitioning, but also open the conversation for her children.

Board of Education member Jonathan Sessions serves on the policy committee that unanimously voted to send the policy to the school board for approval. He said the committee worked with a local psychologist to help craft the language of the policy.

"We're just adding gender identity and gender expression to two policies, our discrimination policy and a policy that is referenced in our bullying policy, where these things were enumerated,"he said. 

Sessions said the proposed changes include adding language to make up for an inconsistency in the existing bullying and discrimination policy. 

"We did not have sexual orientation enumerated on our bullying policy so we're also adding that to policy JG-R (the student bullying policy)," he said.

Sessions would not speak to whether or not he expects the board to pass the policy, saying only "I hope there is support on the board for this policy."

Sessions said he has not personally received any negative feedback from the community regarding the policy. 

"I've had personally a lot of people reach out to in support of this policy," he said. 

The board read the proposal for the first time Monday. 

"It's about making sure that we're protecting our staff and our students and that's what we're doing by these modifications," Sessions said.

The board will not vote to adopt the proposed policy until its next meeting in September.