The Medford School Committee affirmed its support Monday for following state guidelines on a new gender identity law.
However, the Medford city councilor who originally brought the guidelines and the law to local attention has reversed course on his support, saying the guidelines aren't based on the law.
Superintendent Roy Belson discussed the guidance issued by state Commissioner of Education Mitchell Chester in February for dealing with the law passed last year that "was promulgated to prevent discrimination based on gender identity."
The Medford City Council discussed the measure last week at their meeting, with Councilor Robert Penta expressing support at the time for the guidelines but also concerned about its impact on all Medford students.
Belson said Medford schools will be using the guidance and all school principals and administrators have been advised on using the guidance.
"All students and staff, regardless of gender identity, will have access to a comfortable school setting," Belson said. "We will not, in any way, shape or form, tolerate discriminatory behavior of any type or any form."
Belson acknowledged that guidelines for bathrooms and changing facilities for transgender students are "among the most challenging issues" presented by the law.
"We will resolve these situations on a case-by-case basis," Belson said.
Medford schools will also work with students on gender-identity issues for their student records.
"If John comes to us and sincerely affirms that John wants to be Jane, then on the student records, they will be Jane," Belson said.
School committee members were pleased to see the schools taking the initiative to implement the guidelines.
"We really need to make the message clear that all students receive the utmost respect and dignity under sensitive situations, no matter what the situation may be," said committee member Ann Marie Cugno.
After a question from committee member Robert Skerry, Jr., Belson said he expects the return to the committee in April with a formal policy on the matter for consideration.
Committee member Erin DiBenedetto asked if Medford schools had encountered any situations like the ones outlined as possibilities in the guidelines.
"We have students in our schools who gender-identify," Belson said. "We work with them."
All this came before Penta brought up the issue again at Tuesday's City Council meeting. He'd originally expressed his support for the state guidelines, but changed his opinion after looking at the actual law up against Chester's memo.
"There's not one letter in that bill that represents the terminology of the rules and regulations sent out by the commissioner," Penta said, distributing copies of the bill to all of the councilors.
Penta said the "bathroom bill" provisions have been proposed but are not actually part of the law that was passed by the legislature last year.
"This is not the law," Penta said. "This doesn't even come from the law."
Penta asked the council contact Medford's state legislators and "demand" Chester "pull back" the memo.
"This is going to cause a lot of confusion for cities and towns, school committees and superintendents," Penta said. "This isn't me taking a position for or against this. This is the process and the process has been totally abused by this Commissioner of Education."
Penta added he hoped the School Committee would "hold off" on going ahead with supporting the memo.
Kris Mineau, president of the Woburn-based Massachusetts Family Institute, addressed the council Tuesday night, saying he worked on crafting the bill that was eventually passed and affirmed Penta's concerns about the guidelines.
"(Chester) is basically making this up as he goes along," Mineau said. "There is no law that justifies what he has implemented in this directive."
The council later agreed to table their own resolution on supporting the memo.