Gardiner Area High School sophomore Jay Dostie, left, speaks to the Maine School Administrative District 11 School Board about how the transgender and gender expansive student policy has positively impacted their time in the Gardiner schools. The district has seen a recent uptick in complaints and inquiries about the rules approved in 2020, officials said. Screenshot via Zoom

GARDINER —  As Gardiner-area school officials have been facing an uptick in inquires about the district’s transgender student policy, students and staff recently spoke out about how the policy has improved their school experience.  

Two students took to the podium at the Maine School Administrative District 11 School Board meeting on Jan. 4 and explained that the policy – ACAAA: Transgender and Gender Expansive Students – protects students in Gardiner-area schools.  

Jay Dostie, a sophomore at Gardiner Area High School, told the school board that the policy changed their entire school experience and has made them feel welcome as a non-binary student.  

For example, when the class is split up into “boys and girls,” Dostie said they can choose what side they want to partner with, which has led them to feel “much happier and safer” at the school. 

“This policy helps trans kids like me feel safe at school and in their skin,” said Dostie, who is vice president of the Gay Straight Diverse Alliance. “It makes them feel loved for who they are and that they belong in a world that historically says they don’t belong.” 

The rules require school staff to use students’ chosen names and pronouns, allow students to use the restrooms and locker rooms that most closely match their gender identity and enable affected students to work with their teachers to create education plans suited to their needs.


The policy also prohibits administrators from discussing a student’s gender identity with their parents without first notifying the student, in order “to avoid inadvertently putting the student at risk” if they have not come out to their family. 

Sophomore Catherine Wiese , speaking as an ally of fellow students, asked the board and the public to form their opinions about the policy based on “substantial evidence” and to not listen to “fear mongering.”

The policy is not new and was adopted by the school board in 2022, but Board Chair Becky Fles explained that several members have received questions from parents concerning the rights of transgender students. To explain the legal responsibilities of the school district, the district’s lawyer, Kathleen Wade, spoke to the public at the Jan. 4 meeting.

Just last month, the Augusta Board of Education voted down a similar policy because board members said they felt like they needed to better articulate the rules, despite having a year to do so. 

Wade explained that the policy – created by the Maine School Management Association – is not any different than what districts statewide are required to follow already under the Maine Human Rights Act, which protects people from discrimination based on gender identity, sexual orientation and race, among other identities. Also, she said, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled that transgender students can use the bathroom that matches the gender they identify with in the 2014 Doe v. Clenchy case.

Wade recommends school districts adopt the Maine School Management Association policy because it provides specific instructions to school staff members on how to address situations regarding names, locker rooms and bathrooms for students who identify as transgender or gender expansive.  


“By adopting this policy, you have provided support to teachers, educational technicians, bus drivers, administrators — all of your staff,” she said. “You are telling them what to expect when they are faced with what very well could be a brand new and totally unfamiliar circumstance for them — a child that identifies as transgender, non-binary or gender expansive.” 

Jeff Hanley, an MSAD 11 board member from Pittston, called the policy “insane” and said he received an email from a parent who was concerned about their child using the same bathroom as a transgender student. He said the situation is “dangerous” for the “young ladies coming of age” who are using the same bathrooms.  

Superintendent Pat Hopkins said that any student, regardless of their gender identity, can speak with an administrator if they are uncomfortable using the communal bathroom and alternative options will be made. She also noted in her January newsletter to the community that it is “important to understand the civil rights of every student” and that situations are handled on a case-by-case basis as they arise. 

MSAD 11 serves Gardiner, West Gardiner, Pittston and Randolph.

Gardiner Area High School’s social worker, Beth Brooker, shared statistics with the board from the high school’s results on the 2023 Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey. When all students were asked if they receive “offensive comments or attacks” on how they express their gender, 65% of transgender students responded “Yes” compared to non-transgender students at 5%. 

In response to Hanley, board member Jack Pitteroff agreed that every student, regardless of who they are, should feel safe at school and if they don’t, they need to be asked why that is.  

“Our bathrooms, as well as every other inch of the school building, are supposed to be a safe place for students,” Pitteroff said. “So, if students are experiencing something that is making them feel unsafe, they should go to administration. And for the young women of our district, legally speaking, there is not a boy in that room.” 

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