Colts Neck schools pass first reading of the “forced outing” transgender policy

Colts Neck, NJ school buses
Colts Neck, NJ school buses

The Colts Neck Board of Education (BOE) approved an ill-advised, possibly illegal, transgender policy, 7-2 last Wednesday. The revised policy includes “forced outing” or “notification of parent/guardian” at all grade levels. The BOE’s policy upholds 6th through 8th graders’ autonomy over their chosen names, pronouns, and use of bathroom and changing facilities, even if a parent objects. But in kindergarten through fifth grade parents have full autonomy to “determine” their child’s gender identity, which will impact their autonomy elsewhere in school. 

The new policy will go into a second reading on June 14. The schools will implement the new policy if the BOE votes for it on that date.

Many parents are concerned and reached out to express their views over the board’s first reading of the policy. Denise Rachel, a mother from Colts Neck Township, said that Board Member John Camera felt “exceptionally emboldened” Wednesday night. She recalls Camera saying to the large audience that the policy introduced is “only the beginning.”

“So they plan on going back, I’m sure, as far back as they can to what the original one was,” Rachel said. 

The original change in the school system’s transgender policy was introduced in late February without discussion. It would have required school staff to notify parents of a student’s gender identity and refuse to call a child by their chosen name and pronouns at all ages. Also, the BOE would’ve required segregated bathrooms for trans and gender diverse students.

However, the newest version of the proposal still violates the standing “5756 Transgender Policy.” The original policy states: “The school district shall accept a student’s asserted gender identity; parental consent is not required. A student need not meet any threshold diagnosis or treatment requirements to have his or her gender identity recognized and respected by the school district, school, or school staff members.”  

The BOE also asserts their definition of “biological sex” in their reformed policy. This is added to the new section on “forced outing” (a term used by advocates who deem the changes as dangerous) to parents of a child’s gender identity and expression. 

Rachel says that she has contemplated leaving Colts Neck and has thought about it on a daily basis. She continues to conclude it’s more important for her to put up a fight for now. 

As a mother she says that the board isn’t interested in learning the facts about the LGBTQ community. She feels they’re interested in erasing the small group of transgender children in their local schools. 

“The takeaways are: no matter how many professionals got up there, and I’m telling you, there were professionals, from sociologists to doctors to psychologists, multiple teachers, coaches, a rabbi. I mean, it covered every end of the gamut of people who work with children, and every last one of them told them how harmful this [policy] would be,” said Rachel.  “In the end, they still voted, and they didn’t care.” 

Mallory Reardon, a mother and Colts Neck resident, said she “found this situation a little confusing.”

“From the moment that [school boards] started changing the curriculum and trying to change the transgender policies, I thought: ‘Well, it’s illegal. That it’s quite easy to stop them. They’re going against state law.’ But I guess it’s not like these officers show up and tell them: ‘You know, this is illegal. You can’t do this,’” said Reardon. “You have to wait for someone to file a lawsuit and take it to court and get a judge’s ruling on it.”

Before the vote, Reardon says the board members gave speeches about concluding on the 5756 policy changes. “And they kind of were trying to make it sound like [they] found the middle ground,” said Reardon. 

Unfortunately, middle ground isn’t what Reardon thinks the school board is after. At least, not Camera. The mother of three said Camera’s comments were only to further his “far-right radical ideas” against the trans community.

“[A]ll the talk of compromise, that’s nothing, that was meaningless because [John Camera’s] ultimate goal, I think, is to just stamp out anybody’s ability to be a part of the transgender community or probably the wider LGBTQ community,” said Reardon. “I think he really hates that community of people. And he wants to erase them from existence in our school district.”

Denise Rachel said something similar. She recalled Camera’s wife being present. Rachel remembers her saying “this is a conservative town with conservative values.” 

Rachel doesn’t think that this is about being conservative. Neither does Reardon.

“There was no compassion [at the board meeting]. It was, just in my opinion, just pure fascism,” said Rachel. “No regard for the facts, no regard for anything but them wanting to have this agenda pushed through.”

For Reardon, she found one spot of hope at last night’s meeting: “People in the town came to speak or [they] wrote letters. Even a former board member that I know to be relatively conservative wrote a letter to the board saying that she was not in support of the changes in the board and should not vote yes. So, I do feel like there are some people here who care, and don’t want to see students harmed or lose their rights.”

The second reading to vote for the policy will take place on June 14.