School board responds to anti-trans comments

SARANAC LAKE — The Saranac Lake Central School District Board of Education on Thursday released a statement nearly two weeks after a local parent directed anti-transgender epithets at a student athlete during a flag football game at AuSable Valley High School.

“Discriminatory language and behavior in our schools and on our sports fields are categorically unacceptable,” the statement reads. “It is inappropriate for any adult, regardless of their role in the school community, to harass or belittle a student in any way in any medium.”

On May 11, the parent of a Saranac Lake Red Storm athlete, Eric Wilson, heard from other parents that “a boy” was playing on the other team during a sectional flag football game. Mistaking the student — who was born female — as a transgender female, Wilson made derogatory comments about them, both while recording the game from the bleachers and in social media posts.

“The f***ing (player) on the other team is a thing with a penis,” Wilson wrote in one post. In the same post, he called the child an “it.” Some replies to Wilson’s posts encouraged violence against the student.

The school board indicated that the comments violated the district’s Code of Conduct. The board said that the district would take “appropriate action to address any violations” of school policies, but did not elaborate on what actions, specifically, the district would take in response to the parent’s comments.

SLCSD Superintendent Diane Fox and Athletics Director Forrest Morgan have conducted an investigation into the incident. Fox said any actions by the district wouldn’t come from the school board, it would come from her.

SLCSD and other schools have contracts with Wilson to stage and record graduation ceremonies through his company “Good Guy Productions.” Asked about the status of Wilson’s contract with SLCSD, Fox declined to provide the status.

Fox has decided not to publicly share what actions will be taken, saying the district does not reveal disciplinary actions for conduct violations.

“That’s between the district and that person,” she said. “It’s just not how we do business here.”

Reaction to the incident

The rumor that one of the AuSable Valley Patriots was a transgender female was false. The student, who the Enterprise has granted anonymity to protect the child from retribution, was born female.

Wilson has since deleted his posts and apologized numerous times. But the student and their mother have said the harm was already done. They said Wilson posted false and sensitive information about a child and put a target on their back.

“We’d like to thank the school districts and the communities for their support in promoting a safe environment for everyone,” the student and their mother said Thursday in response to the board’s statement.

Reached on Thursday, Wilson declined to comment on the school board’s statement and reiterated that he believes his comments were not anti-trans.

Wilson said on May 16 that he feels ashamed and embarrassed to have hurt a student. He said he has “no bias … against athletes who are transitioning,” that he “doesn’t have a hateful bone in (his) body” and that it was ignorance of the facts, not hate, that led to his posts. Wilson also said that he disagrees with the state’s law allowing transgender students to play sports in the gender they identify as, New York’s Dignity for All Students Act, but that he voiced his disagreement in an inappropriate way and was targeting a student based on inaccurate information.

AuSable Valley Central School District officials have since condemned the incident; they are considering banning Wilson from school events there.

Last week, SLCSD board member Tori Thurston called for an emergency meeting after hearing about the posts. She suggested the board craft a statement on the issue.

Adirondack North County Gender Alliance Executive Director Kelly Metzgar, who is a trans woman and a member of SLCSD’s Diversity Equity and Inclusion committee, said at the SLCSD meeting last week that “perhaps (Wilson) should spend time getting to know transgender youth and transgender people before condemning us” and urged Wilson to have empathy for others.

A transgender student athlete on the Saranac Lake Red Storm called what their teammates and others said online and off the field “not appropriate.”

More details of the incident can be found at tinyurl.com/528vx56e.

The statement

The school board’s statement, released Thursday, spoke of the district’s “unwavering” commitment to providing students with a safe and inclusive environment. The school board said students are entitled to participate in school activities without harassment and reminded community members about the importance of maintaining this environment for students.

It is the board’s responsibility to protect children from harm, the statement says.

“It is essential to a community to have a school district where students accept differences (diversity), know that everyone should have the same chances (equity), and stand up for others to make them feel welcome and important (inclusion),” the statement reads, referencing the school’s DEI committee and policies.

The school board’s statement includes language from a policy in the district’s Code of Conduct, which says that people attending school functions “shall conduct themselves in a respectful and orderly manner” and not “intimidate, harass, or discriminate against any person on the basis of actual or perceived” attributes, including gender, which includes gender identity and expression.

The statement can be read in full at tinyurl.com/3k2mvnvh.


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