Civil Rights

Smithfield School Committee Meeting Sees Opposition to Proposed Policy Outing Trans Students to Parents

Over 100 people, including students, attended a Smithfield School Committee meeting to address the proposed policy that would mandate outing trans students to their parents. Multiple students spoke out against the policy, citing the potential for harmful consequences, the importance of trust between students and teachers, and the need for privacy.

Rhode Island News: Smithfield School Committee Meeting Sees Opposition to Proposed Policy Outing Trans Students to Parents

May 3, 2023, 12:10 pm

By Steve Ahlquist

The Smithfield School Committee met on Monday night, and though the proposed policy that would mandate the outing of trans students to parents was not on the agenda, the subject was on the minds of the over 100 people in attendance. Around half those attending the meeting were students.

During the meeting School Committee Chair Richard Iannitelli presented academic commendations to Smithfield students involved in the Smithfield High School Science Olympiad Team and the Teacher Preparation Pathway Program. As the groups of students were awarded certificates by Committee Chair Iannitelli, one student in each group held a sign emblazoned with an LGBTQ+ flag and the words, “NOT YOUR CHOICE,” a direct rebuke to the proposed policy of outing trans students to parents, or revealing the gender identity of students publicly.

Smithfield High School Science Olympiad Team
Teacher Preparation Pathway Program participants

During public testimony, three students spoke out against the proposed policy:

Bailey Sheridan

“Hello school committee members. My name is Bailey Sheridan and my pronouns are they, them, theirs. I’m very lucky and grateful to have accepting parents within my household that allow me to speak freely about my gender and sexuality. Unfortunately though, most kids that live in Smithfield do not have this freedom at home and have to bottle this all up emotionally. This school district has so many accepting teachers and safe places that our students feel safe enough to open up and be honest with our teachers about this topic in a way they can never imagine to be in front of their parents. Because of the conflicting beliefs that most of our gender nonconforming and transgender youth population have to handle at home, [the proposed policy] is going to cause more harm than good. But I can understand why you would want to do this and keep the parents on the same page with the teachers.

“There are many scenarios that can happen if this policy is put into effect. The first one being that the parents are supportive and understanding and do everything they can to help the student. That’s the ideal scenario. The second one is what happened to me, without school involvement – the parents are not supportive and not understanding, but they eventually learn and come to an understanding of what we are talking about. The third one, which is the worst case scenario, is that the parents will act nice to the school, but unfortunately, will yell at the student the minute they get home, saying stuff like, ‘This is a phase’ or, ‘I can’t believe you would do this’ and all of this could lead to abusive situations within the household.

“I will tell you right now, as a member of the SEL Wellness Task Force, just by knowing most of the transgender community here at Smithfield High School, this [proposed policy] is not going to help with the goals that we have started to narrow down within our task force for being successful. We cannot be outing students like this as it is against FERPA to pass this policy. Quoting from the website- unfortunately, I do not have the section or law number – revealing a student’s transgender status, birth names, sex assigned at birth or medical history to classmates, parents, teachers, or and or others may violate federal educational privacy law. Even if this wasn’t a legal issue though, the amount of trust that a student has with a teacher will be non-existent. In order to have trust within a student-teacher relationship, there needs to be a level of trust in vulnerability. This was taught to me by my student teacher in chorus right now. I want you all to really think about this and how many students you’ll affect if this transgender policy gets put into place.”

Smithfield School Committee - Bailey Sheridan
Bailey Sheridan

Cass Venditelli

“My name is Cass and I’m here tonight to share my thoughts on the proposed trans student policy change as a transgender non-binary alumni of the school district. I’ve known I was queer as long as I can remember, and I’ve never formally had to come out to my family. I’m incredibly fortunate that my queerness was never treated as a disappointment or a burden, and I have the full support of my family, some of which are here. I cannot imagine what it would be like to not have that support system while simultaneously having my school debate breaching my privacy and informing my family before I am ready. When you hear that trans youth are afraid for their safety to inform their families, your mind may jump to the worst and assume risk of physical danger. But this is not always the case in the world today.

“We cannot turn on the news and use social media without regularly finding people calling us mentally ill, groomers, confused, a contagion, saying we need to be eradicated from society. These opinions are not as unpopular as they should be, and a number of the people laughing along and wholeheartedly agreeing with these sentiments are, unfortunately, members of our own family. So no, while physical abuse will not be a factor in every single case, there is a real and valid fear of rejection, embarrassment, shame, ridicule and dismissiveness that comes with coming out to a potentially unaccepting family member. Children know their own parents better than any faculty member can. They know whether or not it will be okay if they disclose that information to their families. That is their call and their decision to make, and no one should take that freedom away. Being outed is traumatic, and at the end of the day, that is who they have to come home to.

“I’m here to tell you that being out to friends and people who you trust is important and necessary, and in some cases, lifesaving. School should be a refuge for marginalized kids to feel safe if they cannot be at home. It is a sad reality that many parents are not accepting of youth, their own children included. According to a peer reviewed study on transgender health published by The Trevor Project, transgender youth who reported acceptance from at least one adult in their life were 39% less likely to attempt to suicide compared to their transgender peers who are not accepted. I ask you – If kids feared coming out to their families and they no longer feel safe being out at school, where do they turn? And if they have nowhere to turn, what will happen to them? We all agree that all students should feel safe and supported, but I do not agree that parental rights negate that in any way.

“I’m not saying that anyone should go out of their way to make sure parents are kept out of the loop, but if a student begs you not to inform their parents of their LGBTQ plus status, outing them is never something that’s in their best interest. All this will accomplish is making us want to stay in the closet, which is what bigots want. With record breaking amounts of harmful and willfully ignorant legislation being proposed and passed countrywide right now, please be the positive change. Do not be tempted to join in. Be the future that kids need. If you truly believe that all students should feel safe and supported, please take our words into consideration.”

Smithfield School Committee - Cass Venditelli
Cass Venditelli

Caroline Bosco

“I came here tonight to share my perspective, as a student, regarding the new gender and sexual orientation policy that’s being proposed for this district. The first matter I’d like to address is student and faculty communication. If staff members are required to report any desired sexual or gender orientation changes that a student expresses, that puts both the faculty member and student in an uncomfortable position. It invalidates the trust that many students have with their educators and can also lead to physical and emotional problems in that student’s household.

“We all are allowed to have our own moral preferences, but it’s still necessary to respect someone’s preferences and orientation regardless of if they permanently associated with such identity. Teenagers, young adults, are constantly in a state of exploration. Furthermore, students should be granted the right of privacy regarding their identity. Referring to Rhode Island statute 38-2-2 “Personnel and other personal individually identifiable records otherwise deemed confidential by federal or state law or regulation, or the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” This law has no statement regarding the legal public release of gender related tabulation. In other words, releasing a statement regarding the number of transgender students or students of a certain sexual orientation to the general community, even if those students were mentioned anonymously, would be in direct violation of this statute. After hearing my statements today, I ask that you reconsider the principles and language of this draft so it’s further supportive of our student body and community.”

Smithfield School Committee - Caroline Bosco
Caroline Bosco

Dorothy Chin, a parent, also spoke against the proposed policy, while another parent, Alycia Casazza, came out somewhat in support.

Left to right: Committee member Amanda Fafard, Vice-Chair Jessica Sala, Chair Richard Iannitelli, legal council Sean Clough, and Committe members Anthony Torregrossa and Benjamin Caisse