/ Modified apr 12, 2023 8:10 p.m.

Catalina Foothills School District faces concerns over its nondiscrimination policy

More than 130 people attended the Tuesday meeting.

Trans Pride Flag Transgender pride flags filled a Catalina Foothills School District Governing Board meeting on Tuesday, April 11, 2023.
Paola Rodriguez/Arizona Public Media

Rainbow pride flags, hand-made pro-transgender rights posters, and blue shirts filled an emotional meeting room during the Catalina Foothills School Governing Board meeting on Tuesday night. The meeting, which reached max capacity about 30 minutes prior, was full of parents, students, and local residents who gathered in solidarity with trans students to voice their support for protecting trans students after attendees shared concerns over student privacy and bathroom rights at last week’s meeting.

Catalina Foothill School district meeting attendees sit Some attendees wore pride flags during a Catalina Foothill School District Governing Board meeting at the Valley View Early Learning Center in Tucson, Az. on Tuesday, April 11, 2023. The room reached maximum capacity at 6:00 p.m., 30 minutes prior to the start time.
Paola Rodriguez/Arizona Public Media

Last month, Fox News broke the news that Orange Grove Middle School Principal Mark Rubin-Toles emailed a confidential list of students with preferred names and pronouns to faculty and staff in 2021. Rubin-Toles wrote:

“If you are like me, you may have been challenged recently to keep some of our kids’ pronouns and preferred names straight–and to remember what can and can’t be shared with families…Please be very careful–students in red are NOT comfortable with us sharing this information with their parents/guardians. This can be cognitively challenging. It is our responsibility to protect student privacy in these matters.”

The Catalina Foothills School District responded in early March and said that the email was “inconsistent with our district practice.” A spokesperson for CFSD said that Principal Rubin-Toles was a thoughtful, talented, and compassionate administrator.

“Regardless, he has our support,” they said.

Catalina Foothills School District Meeting attendees Attendees are listening to students speak during a Catalina Foothills School District Governing Board meeting in the Valley View Early Learning Center in Tucson, Az. on Tuesday, April 11, 2023. All of those who spoke during public comment were in support of trans students rights.
Paola Rodriguez/Arizona Public Media

Days after Fox News reported the email, The Daily Caller, another conservative media outlet, reported that the school district had an “unwritten policy” that allowed transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that affirmed their gender identity and separate facilities for students who were uncomfortable with the policy.

The article also said that former CFSD governing board candidate Bart Pemberton was made aware of the alleged unspoken policy after another parent told him. Pemberton lost during the November election last year.

Since the article’s publication, there has been a call for the district to review their non-discrimination policy that passed in 2015.

Catalina Foothills School District Resident Applauding Peter DeLuca, a district resident, is clapping during a Catalina Foothills School District Governing Board meeting in the Valley View Early Learning Center in Tucson, Az. on Tuesday, April 11, 2023. DeLuca's children graduated from the Catalina Foothills School District.
Paola Rodriguez/Arizona Public Media

At the April 4th board meeting, attendees shared concerns over policies regarding pronouns and bathroom access. Some said the district told female students that they may seek bathroom and locker room accommodations if they were uncomfortable. One parent said that they were concerned over the board’s refusal to have an open discussion on the topic and that the school district was actively implementing sex discrimination practices.

“Boys get an accommodation to feel safe and comfortable in a bathroom of the sex that they identify as, but girls aren't provided the same opportunity to feel safe and comfortable in the bathroom of their biological sex,” he said.

Another parent said that single-sex spaces were vital, on behalf of girls’ safety, fairness, and privacy.

“I hope that at least one or two of you sitting on the board will speak up and be vocal for your constituents who share my view and that you will at the very least fight to have it placed on the agenda for discussion,” the parent said during the April 4th meeting.

Discussion over the nondiscrimination policy was not added to the April 11th meeting.

Protect Trans People Sign A "protect trans people" sign lays on the ground during a Catalina Foothills School District Governing Board meeting at the Valley View Early Learning Center in Tucson, Az. on Tuesday, April 11, 2023.
Paola Rodriguez/Arizona Public Media

Many of the students, who attended the meeting this week, said they spoke with their peers and did not find problems regarding bathroom access, pronouns, or safety.

Catalina Foothills High School freshman Daniel Trujillo who identifies as a trans man has been an advocate for trans rights and has spoken out against anti-trans legislation at both the state and national capitol. He said that he’s never had to deal with the transphobia that other school districts in Arizona have experienced.

“School has been the one place where I’ve never needed to debate my personhood or justify why I’m deserving of equal access to public accommodations or an inclusive, equitable education,” Trujillo said.

Trujillo said that he was able to have a seamless transition in the classroom, where he received an outpour of support from counselors, classmates, and teachers.

That changed when he, along with others, called on the board to continue upholding federal non-discrimination laws.

“So all that stuff that's happening is finally hitting us,” Trujillo said.

To prepare for Tuesday night’s meeting, Trujillo said that students gathered together to plan what they were going to say and how to support trans students.

“School has always been a safe space for a lot of queer youth,” Trujillo said. “We shouldn't be trying to make school another space for students, who might not be affirmed at home, make it a space where they also aren't supported and valued at school.”

Trujillo called Tuesday night’s meeting heartwarming.

Catalina Foothills School District Students A group of Catalina Foothills School District students pose for a photo after speaking for the protection of trans students rights during a governing board meeting at the Valley View Early Learning Center in Tucson, Az. on Tuesday, April 11, 2023.
Paola Rodriguez/Arizona Public Media

The meeting also garnered the attention of Pima County Supervisor and district resident Rex Scott, who echoed many of the same concerns expressed by his constituents.

“Every child wants and deserves to feel connected to their school, to know that there are adults at their school who care for them, and to see that all children at their school are treated with equal dignity,” Scott said. “If we do anything less, we are harming these kids.”

The CFSD governing board did not comment on concerns that were shared this week or last.

Katya Mendoza contributed to this story.

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