The Rhode Island Catholic school whose ban on transgender students ignited controversy last week has released two statements which have potential for opening doors to reconciliation and to greater inclusion.
Officials at Mount Saint Charles Academy responded to the intensifying criticism to their policy change which excluded transgender students from school with an initial statement last Friday, saying the policy which explicitly bans transgender students:
“. . .is not intended to be discriminatory toward transgendered [sic] students nor is Mount Saint Charles Academy’s intent or desire to exclude transgender students. The policy was put in place for the simple reason that Mount Saint Charles feels that its facilities do not presently provide the school with the ability to accommodate transgender students.”
Citing other personal needs which may disqualify applicants from attending Mount Saint Charles, such as academic disabilities, the statement suggested the school was incapable of serving all students. Administrators added that they were “exploring ways in which it [the school] might provide reasonable accommodations for transgender students and fulfill its mission.” The statement concluded with an appeal for help, as the school “would very much like to correct the problem” inherent to this policy’s existence. According to the school, this policy was not prompted by any transgender applicants or students.
A second statement released within an hour of the first one added an opening sentence which said Mount Saint Charles “deeply regrets the unintended hurt feelings at and seeming insensitivity of our policy,” reported Go Local Providence.
These statements came after alumni quickly organized themselves to protest the ban, which had been implemented last fall but only came to their attention last week. A Facebook group called Concerned Alumni Against Mount St. Charles Trans-Exclusive Policy has 800 members and nearly 1,500 people signed a petition on Change.org, available here.
Alumni claim they knew trans students who have attended Mount Saint Charles in the past. 2007 graduate Johnelle Bergeron told NBC 10 that alumni “would never expect that from Mount because they always preached about tolerance and God is love, everyone’s equal.’ ” Parents of current students have been critical of the policy change , too, with Kristine Kinnear saying she hopes the school would make necessary accommodations if it were her child.
YouthPride, an LGBT organization in Rhode Island, released a statement saying the transgender ban is “not an acceptable solution” and offered to help Mount Saint Charles become capable of supporting transgender students, reported RIFuture.org.
Last Friday morning, with little information about how and why the policy came into existence, I suggested that Mount Saint Charles administrators seemed indifferent to accommodating the needs of vulnerable transgender students. In view of the school’s two statements later that afternoon, it seems it is not indifference that is the problem. It appears the ban on transgender students was an honest acknowledgement by school officials that they had not addressed gender identity issues to the point where they could provide a safe space for trans students. Despite good intentions, the administrators’ ban on transgender students was a misstep, which has been understandably painful for alumni and the local community.
But with the school’s new resolve to address these issues head-on, and with alumni support for transgender students, there is tremendous potential right now for Mount Saint Charles Academy to help students of all genders can be “known, valued, treasured, and taught,” as their mission statement declares. Alumni have crowdfunded over $4,000 to provide an “actionable solution” to this problem, saying the money should help create accessible restrooms and locker rooms for transgender students along with supportive policies and non-discrimination protections. Mount Saint Charles officials should follow through on their statements’ desire by reaching out to alumni seeking to help and others in the community with relevant expertise and resources.
Banning transgender students was a harmful decision, but if all involved can tune into the reconciliation called for by yesterday’s readings at Mass, this could be a tremendous moment for Catholic education.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry