At the September 12 Northampton School Board meeting, board member Doug Vaughn asked to hear opinions from board members and the public on whether they feel the board should develop a policy to address transgender students.
Board President James Chuss replied that there have been no transgender policies in the state that have gone legally unchallenged by either side of the issue, and all of the school districts that did try to develop a policy were defeated.
“I believe creating a policy at this time will surely cost our taxpayers in transgender policy generated lawsuits. Our current system has served us well for the last 10 years. I don’t see a problem with it right now, and I think we’re trying to fix something that’s not broken. We are public education and provide education and resources to each and every student within the confines of the law. We follow the laws and do not create or alter the laws,” said Chuss.
If a student identifies as transgender, they are required to meet with the administration and their parents to develop a specific plan that addresses any concerns. Once the plan is developed for the student, only the student’s teachers become privy to the information.
Board member Dr. Michael Baird stated that if people want to develop a policy, they need to go to their state representatives because it is a legislative issue and not a school board issue.
Chuss chimed that Title IX is a federal statute that prohibits discrimination in government programs such as public schools on the basis of sex.
Board member Kim Bretzik stated that she wants every student to feel welcome in the district and that the district is doing this well.
All board members other than Vaughn agreed that the district has been handling this well and that a policy is not needed at this time.
Next, Kovalchik brought up the Act 34 Hearing, which is a state required public meeting to discuss the reasons for a new structure or major renovation project. Kovalchik said the architects and engineers need direction from the board to create the Act 34 Booklet that has to be advertised and eventually approved.
“We would like to get it approved in October and have the meeting November 10,” said Kovalchik.
Kovalchik added that the board is not locked into this decision and can change their mind at a future time, but that the Act 34 Hearing is a formality that all school districts are required to hold in Pennsylvania.
The board was given five options in regards to the district’s Route 329 property, building a new elementary school and closing existing schools and district buildings.
Board members Baird, Becker, Frantz, Gogel, Makary, and Chuss voted in favor of Option 5, which was to build a new elementary school and Administration Center on the district’s 329 property and close Franklin Elementary School, Moore Elementary School, the Washington Technology Building, and the Administration Building, but keep Moore Elementary School open for sections of the building for community and district use such as staff development and township meetings. Bretzik, Mentzell, and Vaughn voted in favor of Option 1, building a new elementary school on the district’s 329 property and close only Franklin Elementary School. With a majority of six votes in favor of Option 5, the administration will move forward to prepare the documents for the Act 34 Hearing.
Kovalchik noted that this does not mean the district will be building the new elementary school or renovating anything because there is still a long way to go in the process and that the board will have to make a final decision at some point. However, this is where the board stands at this time with a tentative Act 34 Hearing on November 10.
In other business, the board members had the first reading of a draft policy for streaming school board meetings, which will also require a second reading next month, before it is approved. At the previous month’s meeting, board members voted with the majority in favor of visually and audibly recording school board meetings and uploading them to the district website within 24 hours, which will be kept on the site for 30 days until the official meeting minutes are approved per state law.
Kovalchik stated that there is the option of redacting comments that violate policy or state law, such as referencing a student by name, vulgar language, or direct threats.
After questions from board members about what would qualify for redaction, board Solicitor Steven Miller and most board members were in favor of not redacting anything from the recordings. Some board members also requested that if anything is redacted, it will only be audibly redacted from the meeting when it is uploaded.
During new business personnel/voice vote and personnel/roll call vote, all agenda items including various staff transfers, leave of absences for NASD staff members, resignations, and new hires were approved unanimously.
All items under facilities, finances, and miscellaneous were also approved unanimously, aside from the Expulsion Hearing Waiver being pulled from the agenda.
During public comment, several residents expressed their appreciation of the board moving forward with streaming school board meetings. Multiple residents also expressed that they were in favor of developing a transgender policy for the safety of their children and grandchildren in order to be proactive in the event that any issues occur.
One parent expressed that studies show exercise correlates with higher test scores and suggested that outdoor exercise could help combat the low standardized test scores in the district and to help children learn and focus better.
Another parent expressed her concern with there not being a junior prom this year and stated that she has been getting the runaround when she spoke with multiple members of the administration.
Superintendent Kovalchik shared that if there’s any way for NAHS to have a junior prom, he is all for it and that he will look into this issue.
The next Northampton School Board meeting will be Monday, October 10 at 6:30 p.m. in the NAHS auditorium, located at 1619 Laubach Ave.