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    Nat Quinn

    Trustees publicly question handling of transgender teacher with oversized breasts

    ‘Right now, the community sees us as not being up to the job, just dragging our feet. Are we doing anything to address this?’ trustee asks

    Trustees of an Ontario school board at the centre of furious controversy over classroom displays of enormous, seemingly prosthetic breasts, by what the school says is a transgender teacher, showed their first public sign of discontent over the handling of the situation.

    Through roadside protests, petitions, outbursts from the public, a string of vitriolic death threats and bomb scares, the Halton District School Board (HDSB) trustees and board officials had remained steadfast that the issue could not be discussed, the teacher is supported and that no action could be taken, even if it was warrananted.


    There was a different tone Wednesday night at the board’s meeting.


    In January, the board told staff to draft a policy outlining dress and decorum by staff in Halton schools. On Wednesday the draft policy was presented, but it didn’t offer any new rules or regulations.


    Some parents expressed frustration the issue that has disrupted Oakville Trafalgar High School, west of Toronto, since the start of the school year seems no closer to resolution.


    Questions from several trustees to Curtis Ennis, director of education, and Sari Taha, superintendent of education, revealed they share the frustration.


    Trustee Naveed Ahmed questioned the effectiveness of the draft policy and the community’s support for it or the survey the board put in place to receive feedback.


    “We have overwhelming evidence that the community, or the stakeholders, are not supporting the survey, or the professional policy draft as it is circulated,” Ahmed said.


    “So right now, the community sees us as not being up to the job, just dragging our feet. Are we doing anything to address this?”


    Ennis said the survey has about 4,500 responses on the policy draft so far from the school community — and expects “thousands, upon thousands, upon thousands of feedback,” that will help determine next steps.


    Ahmed had other concerns: “There is no clear expectations from the policy, like what we are trying to achieve. The scope of this policy is left to anybody’s interpretation. The scope is completely open.”


    Taha said details might come from a “companion procedure.”


    Trustee Carole Baxter asked if the policy will “impose requirements on staff that are not already in the existing policies and procedures that are referenced in the draft policy?”


    Taha said “it is possible … and possible it may not.”


    Trustee Xin Yi Zhang said the policy document contains inconsistent information, in one place saying the board has authority to take reasonable measures to deal with staff but elsewhere saying policies can’t change because of unresolved collective bargaining with teacher unions.


    Zhang then read a section from Ontario’s Education Act:


    “All students, parents or guardians, teachers, staff and community members have the right to be safe and feel safe, in their school community. With this right comes the responsibility for everyone to be accountable for their actions and contribute to a positive school climate.


    Including, he said, “preventing inappropriate behaviour.


    “This is our legal requirement,” Zhang said to applause from the public gallery.


    “We need to have the confidence to create a policy to address the inappropriate behaviour.”


    We need to have the confidence to create a policy to address the inappropriate behaviour

    Board vice-chair Tanya Rocha asked: “What are we currently doing today, or what can be done, to address situation where staff members are unprofessional?”


    Ennis said: “I know we have the policy the statutes and the guidelines and principles and policies in place when they arise. We have been doing that for decades.”


    Talha added: “There is an impressive inventory of policies, procedures, statues that engage the employment relationship.”


    Before the questions from trustees, there were three public delegations to the board on the issue. Two spoke of broken trust between parents and the board.


    Lynn Petruskavich said the Ontario Human Rights Code outlines how prohibiting discrimination based on grounds such as age, race, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity can be done “while still respecting the boundaries that uphold the professional standards of an employer.”


    “It is imperative that forms of identity and expression presented in a school environment be scrutinized against the child safeguarding practices enshrined in the Ontario Child, Youth & Family Services Act.


    “The primacy of student safety and wellbeing must always be distinguished, prioritized, and protected by those in positions of power. Students must come first,” Petruskavich said.


    Celina Close, a parent who is also a spokeswoman for a parents’ group called Students First Ontario, asked the board to ensure parents aren’t ignored as the professionalism policy is fleshed out.


    “My ask is a simple one: make it clear that parents will have a meaningful role in finding a solution, and that the board will protect that role,” Close said.


    That would be “a small step to rebuilding the trust and confidence that has been eroded,” she said.


    The already unusual situation with the shop teacher — which draws international attention — has had a few twists recently.


    Kayla Lemieux in class
    Images of an Ontario shop teacher wearing oversized prosthetic breasts to work have drawn international attention.  PHOTO BY TWITTER

    The teacher, Kayla Lemieux, is no longer in the classroom at Oakville Trafalgar High School.


    “While not currently on an active assignment, the teacher remains employed with the HDSB. We continue to support the teacher,” the board’s communications manager Heather Francey told Postmedia.


    The change in status comes as the New York Post newspaper published photographs purporting to be of the teacher out and about in men’s clothing, without a wig, makeup or the large breasts seen in school.


    The paper quotes a neighbour saying the teacher usually does not wear prosthetic breasts outside, only to go to work, for a walk or when police conduct a safety check.


    The teacher, however, told Postmedia the photos are of the wrong person, not her.


    In an email, Lemieux said her breasts were not prosthetics, as has been widely believed, but real, caused by a rare genetic condition of gigantomastia and a “hormone sensitivity to estrogen.”


    She also said she was not transgender but born intersex — which can mean various conditions when a person’s anatomy does not align with typical definitions of female or male.


    It is not known if the photos or the self-declared diagnosis had any impact on the teacher’s classroom re-assignment.


    Ennis said at the start of the discussion the issue has attracted “a tremendous amount of attention on this policy, perhaps more than we’ve received in recent history.”


    “It is deeply upsetting for our entire community to watch as some individuals continue to threaten the very students they claim to stand for. We can disagree but to threaten students and schools Is simply unacceptable,” he said.


    “We take great pride in the inclusiveness and the compassion and the respect for human rights that our students and their families feel.


    “We have done our very best to draft a policy that prioritizes education and the learning environment for our students. At the same time we are holding firm to our values of inclusion and I know this board holds that in high regard.”


    The board said safety concerns meant all members of the public attending the school board meeting were required to show identification and sign in before being allowed into the gallery.

    source:Trustees question handling of trans teacher with oversized breasts | National Post

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