A decision by the USD 253 Board of Education Wednesday to update its Board GAAA Equal Employment Opportunity and Nondiscrimination policy to include gender identity or expression and sexual orientation was met with applause.
The decision came after students and community members alike spoke in favor of the measure earlier in the meeting.
The changes came after the Kansas Association of School Boards issued a recommendation last month to include a provision adding verbiage prohibiting the district from using an applicant’s genetic information against them in the hiring process. The board discussed the provision, along with the possibility of also including gender identity and sexual orientation — which are already outlined for existing employees and students — as well.
“Policy GAAA is the EEOC policy — it’s the hiring policy,” Kelly Bolin, assistant superintendent of human resources, said. “We already had protections in place for staff concerns, staff complaints, and we had it for students. Where we didn’t have it was in our hiring.”
Bolin said KASB had recommended not adopting the language before federal legislation was settled to avoid possible litigation, however, other districts have adopted similar language without issue.
It’s an important distinction to make, she said.
“Our students need people who look like them,” Bolin said. “So, whenever you’re talking about inclusivity, you’re talking about having staff, having teachers, having support staff, that they identify with, that they look like, that they sound like, that they have the same concerns with.”
Outgoing Board Member Susan Brinkman said she felt it was important to add the language to be consistent in district policy.
“If we’re not practicing discrimination ... I don’t understand why we wouldn’t make all of our policies from hiring to employment to our students consistent,” she said.
Mallory Koci, who is also leaving the board, urged the board to go a step further as it moves forward in outlining protections and policies regarding transgender and non-binary students, faculty and staff, including comprehensive training opportunities.
“We cannot expect our staff and our faculty not to discriminate if they don’t know what it looks like,” Koci said. “I think that would be a good step forward from here, to build on this progress.”
The board also appointed Doug Epp and Mike Crouch to serve as board representatives for the Building for the Future Executive Committee. The committee will also include Superintendent Kevin Case, Assistant Superintendent for Business Rob Scheib, Maintenance Director Bob Fancher, IT Operations Director Paul Beadles, members of the elementary or secondary core team and representatives from HTK Architects and the McCownGordon team.
“To me, this committee is going to be tasked with a very large objective,” Board President Art Gutierrez said, suggesting that the board’s representatives serve terms of one year to give a wider breadth of input during the process.
The board also received an update on school safety updates and improvements. Updates to cyber-security and transportation, as well as secure entrances at all buildings, are providing multiple layers of protection to students, faculty and staff.