ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — A St. Paul charter school is in the middle of a heated debate between parents and activists, who plan to protest Tuesday night.
It centers around a 5-year-old boy who chooses to wear a skirt to school.
The administration at Nova Classical Academy in St. Paul is in the process of adopting a policy for transgender students.
Nova is a small K-12 public charter school with about 900 students, and another 1,000 students on its wait list.
It is known for its academics, but is now getting attention for how it is handling the bullied student.
Jill Gaulding and Lisa Stratton, co-founders of Gender Justice, are advising the parents of the kindergartner.
“Every kid should be able to choose his own tennis shoes, right? He happens to wear the ones that are pink, or wear a pink backpack,” Gaulding said. “Some pretty hateful things have been said. I mean, it’s sad in this country that when a child chooses to wear a pink backpack that people say that he should be beaten up by his peers, and that’s just to quote one the comments that was made.”
Erik Williams is Nova Classical Academy’s executive director. He says all students have the right to feel safe.
“A child who is bullied has a hard time learning. It’s almost impossible if they’re feeling like people are staring at them,” Williams said.
He says Nova has provided training to teachers and staff on gender identity, as well as talked with students about appropriate behavior.
“If they understand that, they will be less likely to bully, because understanding is the first step to getting along,” Williams said.
The Minnesota Family Council, a conservative religious group, was invited by parents at Nova to lead a community discussion about transgender students.
They are holding it at the school, but Nova wants to make it clear that it does not share their views.
“It does seem unfortunate that it is becoming polarized or made into a political issue that it doesn’t need to be,” Stratton said.
That community discussion led by the Minnesota Family Council is taking place at the school Tuesday night at 6:30 p.m.
Supporters of Gender Justice and OutFront Minnesota say they also plan to attend to show support for the child’s family.
The attorneys for the parents say that the bullying of the kindergartner has been verbal so far, not physical.
A few other school districts are starting to develop these transgender policies across Minnesota. The issue of bathrooms seems to be one of the most difficult to address.
At Nova, they say they are still looking at several options for that. One option that Gender Justice described is to create gender-neutral bathrooms in addition to the traditional girls and boys bathrooms.