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Rally planned in Batavia to support transgender students, urge district action on equity, diversity

A group of Batavia students, parents and community members are planning to stage a rally before the Tuesday night Batavia school board meeting to urge officials to take a stronger stance on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion in education and in the schools.

According to rally organizer Scott Naylor, a parent of three students at Rotolo Middle School, the rally is scheduled for 6 p.m. at Rotolo Middle School, 1501 N. Raddant Road, before the 7 p.m. school board meeting. Attendees also are being urged to speak during the meeting about personal experiences of harassment or intimidation, he said.

Naylor said the rally’s purpose is to pressure the district to make changes and to keep the public informed about plans to address diversity, equity and inclusion issues.

“It affects the mental health and safety of our children,” he said. “Kids who are part of any of these marginalized groups can be negatively affected by not getting the support they need.”

In a statement released Tuesday afternoon, Superintendent Lisa Hichens said that the district is continuing to work on addressing concerns about its diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.

“The community is rallying around a cause and looking for action. Students not feeling safe is a worthy call to action. However, the narrative that the district is doing nothing when a student feels unsafe, harassed or bullied is false,” she said in the statement. “We strive for 100% of students to be respectful and kind to each other at all times. I cannot promise that every student will meet our behavior expectations, but I can assure you that we are committed to helping these students do better and to supporting the students who are affected. The details of our interventions are not publicly disclosed to protect student privacy. We do follow up on all of the incidents that are reported, whether the report is made at a public meeting or to an adult in the building. In fact, we regularly ask every student at Batavia High School if they have a trusted adult in the building to ensure they know where to go with their concerns.

Our staff members are caring individuals who cultivate positive relationships with students every day in an effort to help students feel welcome and included.

This year, the Board of Education asked students, staff, and community members to review our strategic priorities to see how our organization can do better. A team of staff members is working on an action plan to address the top areas for improvement. These discussions will continue and we will update the equity page of the website to keep the public informed.”

According to an email sent to Rotolo families on May 11, Principal Kelley Karnick stated that a large group of students gathered in the school’s main atrium before classes began that day to express concern about student bathroom usage. Karnick stated that the incident lasted five minutes and that students were respectful.

“A student who is transgender, nonbinary or gender nonconforming has a right to access public facilities, including bathrooms,” Karnick stated in the email. “This right came into conflict with the feelings of the other students who were uncomfortable with this situation, causing the public expression this morning.”

The rally was not planned in response to that incident, Naylor said. However, he said that incident is one of the things the group is trying to prevent.

“Our plans are to make this an every school board meeting type of thing,” he said about the rally. “This isn’t just for tonight. It will continue because it will be a long road to get these changes to be made. But [that incident] was not what spurred the action for tonight.”

Karnick stated that the district’s response is to “protect the privacy and rights of all students, encourage student expression in a respectful, non-disruptive manner and to use this as a teachable moment for issues related to student rights and responsibilities.”

“Our response has been for an administrator or student services staff member to meet with any student who is feeling uncomfortable or who has expressed concern so we can clarify our expectations about how we treat one another, offer support and discuss how they can navigate the situation to meet their needs.”

Karnick concluded in the email that students who harass or intimidate others will face “disciplinary consequences.”