Fargo School Board backs superintendent's defiant stance on transgender law
In the wake of new North Dakota legislation related to transgender students, Superintendent Rupak Gandhi told the Fargo School Board "we're going to do what's right for our kids"
FARGO — The superintendent of Fargo Public Schools said his district will prioritize keeping students safe above following a new North Dakota law that puts restrictions on transgender students in schools.
Superintendent Rupak Gandhi told the Fargo School Board during its meeting Tuesday, May 9, that his administration will make decisions regarding transgender students that may not be interpreted as being in accordance with the state law.
He said the new state law might even be in violation of federal law.
“We’re going to do what's right for our kids and when we see a conflict between federal law and state law, we're going to double down to advocate for our youth,” Gandhi said, his voice choked with emotion.
The nine-member board did not take any formal action regarding Gandhi’s address, though board members thanked the superintendent for his stance, and many echoed his comments about always doing what will protect students and keep them safe.
District spokeswoman AnnMarie Campbell said Fargo Public Schools will continue to allow students to use the restroom that aligns with their gender identity or a staff/single-stall restroom that is available for use.
Asked how the school district will respond to concerns about the approach, Campbell said: "Any concerns expressed by parents will be addressed through administration with consideration to providing the safest environment possible for all students."
The legislation signed by Gov. Doug Burgum on Monday was among the last in a raft of socially conservative gender-related proposals to receive his approval.
Sponsored by Rep. Scott Dyk, R-Williston, the bill bars schools from adopting policies that require or prohibit “any individual from using a student's preferred gender pronoun.”
It also prohibits transgender K-12 students from using bathrooms that align with their gender identity, though schools, with parental permission, may designate separate restroom accommodations for transgender students.
“I think that we as adults in North Dakota and our legislative session failed our children because we are putting our politics over their humanity, when at a time every piece of data will show you that our students need advocates, not opposition,” Gandhi said.
He cited statistics that show suicide is the second leading cause of death for 10- to 24-year-olds in North Dakota.
He said research from the Trevor Project indicates that only one-third of LGBTQ students have parental acceptance, one-third experience parental rejection, and one-third do not disclose their LGBTQ identity until they are adults.
The research shows at least one accepting adult can reduce by 40% the risk of a suicide attempt among LGBTQ youth, Gandhi said.
“Unless the board tells us otherwise, we will not openly out any student because of one law if we know that's going to cause harm to that child. Unless dictated by the board otherwise, we will not participate in anything that we think is going to subject them to further discrimination or increase their self-harm,” he said.
Gandhi said unless board members see a different approach, “that will be our course moving forward.”
Tracie Newman, school board president and a medical doctor, said the approach is “pediatrician-approved.”
“It’s medically sound and the right thing to do,” she said.
“It’s our job to educate children, and if they’re not around because of suicide and we could do something to prevent that, I think we have a duty to do that regardless of what laws are passed,” said Seth Holden, board vice president.
“This indicates that you are a leader that our school district and our students deserve," said board member Robin Nelson. "It’s pretty clear that you have this board's backing on that philosophy."
Board member Greg Clark used the opportunity as a recruitment pitch, saying it’s clear where Fargo Public Schools is planting its flag.
“We have open enrollment in North Dakota,” Clark said. “Come to Fargo.”