WALES — The Regional School Unit 4 Board of Directors discussed several new policies at Oak Hill High School on Wednesday night and approved one motion that promises to reimburse fingerprinting fees for substitute teacher applicants retroactive to the start of the school year.

Some of the proposed policy changes are required by law from the previous legislative session, while others were written to address gaps in school policies. Every policy was approved for either a first or second reading but will require additional votes at later meetings to be adopted.

Among the new policies proposed was one that addressed gender nonconforming students, which Superintendent Andrew Carlton said was necessary to guide the district’s actions moving forward. Much of the policy was copied word-for-word from the Maine Human Rights Commission and the Maine Human Rights Act, he said.

One purpose of the policy is to “foster a learning environment that is safe, affirming, and free from discrimination, harassment and bullying for all students,” it reads.

This was the only proposed policy that drew discussion, with two board members expressing concerns.

“I would caution members of the board to take a hard look at section D, number four,” Wales representative Scott Fyfe said, referring to a line that would allow students to use restrooms, locker rooms and other gender-segregated facilities that match their gender identity. “Recently in the news we’ve heard stories about Texas where that became an issue, and I’d really hate to open ourselves up to some sort of lawsuit.”

Member Joseph Fisher of Sabattus pointed to a different line that would establish a student’s right to be identified by their preferred name and pronouns at their request. He questioned whether the policy should require parental consent.

“At the request of a student, and consistent with the student’s gender identity, the district shall use the student’s preferred name and pronouns consistent with their gender identity on all other documents including but not limited to school identification, classroom rosters, certificates, diplomas and yearbook,” the proposed policy states. The student’s official record would remain under the student’s legal name.

Carlton responded that the district is unable to require parental permission by law because the Maine Human Rights Act grants student the right to decide on their own. He promised to consult legal council regarding both members’ concerns.

The first reading of the policy was approved, with only Fyfe voting in opposition.

A second new policy would bar school employees from distributing political materials or promote particular political parties or candidates while on the job. Teachers would be prohibited from using the classroom as a personal forum to influence the political views of students.

“Teachers may identify and express their own point of view, provided that they identify it as such and the opinion is presented in the context of instruction which provides a balance of viewpoints,” it states.

In other news, the board welcomed Diane Whalen of Sabattus, a retired teacher with 37 years of experience in RSU 4, to the board. She replaced former representative Andrea Lowell.

Carlton reported that 20 parents submitted a Google form indicating that they are interested in joining the district’s COVID-19 advisory committee. The personnel and policy committee will review the responses and choose the six parent representatives.

Additionally, Board Chairman Robert English acknowledged that he received 15 emails from nearly 20 seventh-grade students on Wednesday, but decline to add the requested discussion item to the agenda. He said the board rarely adds items to the agenda on the same day as the meeting due to the concern that interested parties may miss the addition.

In an email following the meeting, he confirmed that the students requested that the board consider cancelling school on Dec. 20-21, thereby extending the Christmas break.

The next school board meeting will take place on Jan. 12 at Libbey Tozier Elementary School.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Diane Whalen replaced Jennifer Waterman on the School Board. Whalen replaced Andrea Lowell, not Waterman.

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