School board approves much-debated gender identity policy for Buffalo Public Schools

Oct 27, 2016

The long-discussed issue of the Buffalo School District’s gender identity policy was voted on at Wednesday night’s meeting of the School Board, and the meeting ended in celebration.

Wednesday night's meeting of the Buffalo Public Schools Board of Education saw a full audience, with many public speakers addressing the school's proposed student gender identity policy. By the end of the meeting, the board approved the policy for all Buffalo Public Schools.
Credit Avery Schneider / WBFO News

Stonewall Democrats of Western New York President Bryan Ball said his organization is elated at the passage of Buffalo’s Student Gender Identity Policy. He called it the result of years of work on New York’s Dignity for All Students Act.

“Now that local school districts like here in Buffalo are adopting policies that protect all of our children – transgender children especially – it is a tremendous victory for civil rights,” said Ball.

Principals and other district staff will soon undergo training related to handling gender identity, while the overall policy takes effect immediately. Despite what appears to be a monumental shift in the district, District Chief of Intergovernmental Affairs, Planning and Community, Dr. Will Keresztes, says it actually builds on practices already in place.

“Transgender students have been using the bathroom of their preference for years in the city of Buffalo and in many other districts," said Keresztes. "But that’s just one of the issues in that policy. The policy is about so many other things and, again, our students have been receiving those rights, which they deserve, for many years. What this does is it allows us to provide some distinct guidance for principals and we think that’s really important.”

Keresztes said the board’s intention has been to have as clear a policy as possible and one that parents can support. He said the entire City of Buffalo should be proud that they came together to pass the Gender Identity policy – the approved version of which will be on the front page of the Buffalo Public Schools website today.

But Wednesday night's meeting wasn't just a simple vote. Following a public comment period filled with pro and con talk of the policy, the board itself offered much debate.

On Wednesday night, the nine members of the Buffalo Board of Education voted on the district's Student Gender Identity Policy. It passed 8-1.
Credit Avery Schneider / WBFO News

Board Member-at-Large Larry Quinn voiced concerns over the involvement of parents in the school district with regard to the Student Gender Identity Policy. Quinn said he’s always supported the policy, but wants to make sure parents are properly notified. He urged members of the Superintendent’s staff to send out a notice that parent’s would be required to sign and return.

“Since we’ve gone to this much effort to develop a policy which is really a bill of rights for students, related to this, that a parent be aware. Because when we’re in the school district we’re the parent for these kids, those six or seven hours they’re in school, and we’re dealing with very young children. I felt strongly about it, but I was ultimately willing to vote for it with the assurance that we would do some work in that area.”

Quinn said he’s looking for acknowledgement, not acceptance, from parents, and that there needs to be a better way of communicating with them than the district’s online portal. According to the Quinn, parents of only 4,000 out of a total 37,000 students utilize it. For now, parents will be notified online ahead of a written statement in next year’s school calendar.

Of all the board's nine members, only Park District Representative Carl Paladino voted against the passage of the Student Gender Identity policy. Paladino said he knew the policy would be approved, but felt he had to make a statement. Paladino called the gender identity policy unnecessary and not well thought out.

During the meeting, Paladino also raised concerns that enacting the policy would constitute a criminal act by the board under Article 245 of New York’s penal code, which addresses public lewdness and exposing one’s self.

“For promoting a child to go in front of a child of the opposite sex and show his genitals," explained Paladino. "That’s basically what lewdness is. And if we’re promoting it by passing a policy that sanctions it, then we’re guilty of a violation of the penal law.”

Paladino’s claim caused some uproars by those in attendance at the meeting, and drew harsh criticism from North District Board Member Hope Jay. She said Paladino failed to properly interpret the law, and hopes to correct him in a one-on-one discussion.

Dr. Will Keresztes, BPS Chief of Intergovernmental Affairs, Planning & Community Engagement explains the vote and offers his reaction.

School Board Member Carl Paladino of the Park District offers his reaction and explains claims he made of a violation of penal law.

School Board Member-at-Large Larry Quinn offers his reaction and explains his position on parents acknowledging the policy.

Stonewall Democrats of Western New York President Bryan Ball offers his reaction to the policy (Video ends abruptly)