Asbury Park BOE reaffirms their commitment to trans students

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Transgender symbol graphic
Transgender symbol graphic
Shadeem Alls-Bey
Asbury Park school board member Shadeem Alls-Bey

The Asbury Park Board of Education reaffirmed its commitment to transgender students by ensuring their policy stood with New Jersey state guidance. With school back in session, board of education members spoke out about uplifting the community needs of New Jersey students, educators, and families that are LGBTQ.

As a parent herself,school board member Shadeem Alls-Bey said the kids in Asbury Park “grow up together and go to school together,” which helps to foster community.

Alls-Bey is parenting her young daughter with her wife of 15 years. “Most parents want to support their children,” Alls-Bey said.

Many school boards in the state have attempted to pass revisions to state guidance on transgender students by implementing “forced outing” policies. Anti-LGBTQ activists like to call it “parental notification.” Some districts, like Colts Neck, have changed their policies to make it an “affirmative duty” to “notify parents” of any changes in a student’s gender identity and expression.

Meanwhile, in Howell Township Sshools have attempted to pass their own “forced outing” policy. These and other Monmouth County schools face court injunctions and investigations by the New Jersey Division of Civil Rights. Some have since backed down.

“We believe strongly in home-school partnership. It is a cornerstone of success,” Howell Superintendent Joseph Isola said at the start of the meeting. “But if we believe that partnership is fractured and a student is in harm’s way, there will be steps taken to support that child in a way that is sincere and genuine.”

Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin said, “We are pleased that the Superior Court has granted a preliminary injunction prohibiting the new policies enacted by the Middletown, Marlboro, and Manalapan-Englishtown Boards of Education from entering into effect while the cases challenging those policies are ongoing,” Platkin said.

“As the Superior Court correctly found, and as we have argued from the start, it is likely that these new policies violate the rights of our most vulnerable residents by discriminating against them on the basis of gender identity or expression. The Court’s decision today is a major victory for civil rights — especially for the civil rights of our State’s LGBTQIA+ students.”

The support for “forced outing” comes with a few arguments. One is for increased parental involvement. Contrarily, Neptune Township Board of Education member Kym Hoffman said that the original trans-student policy doesn’t exclude the parent, but rather centers on the student’s autonomy. “It’s about respecting the student’s privacy — period.”

While the state policy on trans students states that a “school district shall accept a student’s asserted gender identity; parental consent is not required,” it also states that “Due to a specific and compelling need, such as the health and safety of a student or an incident of bias-related crime, a school district may be obligated to disclose a student’s status.”

Asbury Park school board member Michael Penna.

Prior to the disclosure, according to the state policy, the school district should give the student the opportunity to personally disclose their transgender status to parents or guardians before the district informs parents of the student’s circumstances that would lead to the disclosure in the first place.

“I was horrified by what was going on in Monmouth County in particular, and that so many boards of education were coming out and saying they weren’t going to follow mandated [guidance] from the state that keeps our students safe,” said Michael Penna, an Asbury Park school board member.

“You see people get up to the microphone that are being homophobic, transphobic, racist even, without even realizing,” said Asbury Park school board member Giuseppe Grillo.

Asbury Park school board member Joe Grillo

“For [Asbury Park], it’s as natural as breathing, you know, so in terms of how I felt about [it], I mean, obviously, I felt pride,” Grillo continued.

“In terms of the community at large, I think it’s incumbent upon us as board members to kind of spread the message that our school district is on the rise for a long time. Only a decade ago, our graduation rate was 48 percent, now it’s 81-82 percent,” Grillo said.

In addition to a growing graduation rate, Grillo says Asbury Park schools are investing in the students. According to Grillo the literacy program has increased standardized test scores over time since its implementation, and the other is the high school’s dual enrollment program, Dream Academy, where students study to graduate while earning up to 30 college credits applicable for transfer.

“It’s our job as school board members to do that, and to really kind of bring together those various divisions in town,” Grillo said.

Lana Leonard
Lana Leonard (they/them) is a graduate from The College of New Jersey with a degree in journalism and professional writing. They work at the GLAAD Media institute and freelance for publications like LGBTQ Nation while working on their journalistic theory of change project: Late Nights with Lana, a talk show based out of 10PRL film studios in Long Branch, NJ. Lana's mission, in all their work, is to focus on people, their collective truths and how those truths form a community of knowledge towards change.