IRSD board opposes anti-discrimination regs

Board cites fear of litigation and possible construction costs

Date Published: 
December 1, 2017

Coastal Point • Laura Walter: Sheila Warrington and others this week encouraged the Indian River School Board to voice its opposition to proposed state Regulation 225, which is intended to expand anti-discrimination protections for students. However, Warrington argues that the proposed amendment would remove parents’ rights to be informed.

Coastal Point • Laura Walter: Sheila Warrington and others this week encouraged the Indian River School Board to voice its opposition to proposed state Regulation 225, which is intended to expand anti-discrimination protections for students. However, Warrington argues that the proposed amendment would remove parents’ rights to be informed.

The Indian River School District’s school board and superintendent are voicing their opposition to a proposed state regulation that was meant to protect at-risk students. They said they fear the anti-discrimination policy exposes the IRSD to heavy risk of litigation and possible construction expenses to accommodate changes.

The school board unanimously voted at their Nov. 27 meeting to send a formal statement of disapproval of amendments to Regulation 225 in a letter to the governor and Department of Education by the State’s Dec. 4 deadline. Superintendent Mark Steele is to sign that letter as well.

“Whether it goes into effect is beyond our control, and if it goes into effect, we will follow the law,” said Board President Charles Bireley. “There are some significant concerns with the amendment as currently drafted, because it will expose the public schools to potential ligation, expenses and tangible construction costs.

“Many support and disagree with the regulation for a variety of reasons, but these financial issues must be sorted out first before the regulation proceeds any further,” he said.

This summer, after a similar order stalled in the Delaware General Assembly, Gov. John Carney personally ordered the Delaware Department of Education to draft regulations that prohibit discrimination for all public schoolchildren on the basis of any legally protected characteristic, including race and gender identity.

“It is critical that all schools in Delaware be welcoming, inclusive places where students and staff members alike can flourish. Every student should be able to learn, achieve and grow without unlawful discrimination,” Carney’s memo said.

The proposed regulation prohibits discrimination based on “race, ethnicity, color, religion, national origin, sex, gender, sexual orientation, genetic information, marital status, disability, age, gender identity or expression or other characteristic protected by state or federal law.”

The seven-page document would replace the current one-paragraph Regulation 225, which generally prohibits discrimination in any program receiving DOE funds or approval. Regulations carry the same weight as a law, so schools would have to adopt their own anti-discrimination policies (with much mandatory language) before the 2018-2019 school year.

IRSD board members and some parents objected most strongly to where the regulation specifically protects students based on race or gender identity, and the autonomy students may be given in that area. Under the changes, students enrolled in Delaware public schools could self-identify their gender and race.

The proposed regulations say, “A school may request permission from the parent or legal guardian of a minor student” before a student’s preferred name, gender or race is accepted. But first, “the school should consult and work closely with the student to assess the degree to which, if any, the parent or legal guardian is aware of the protected characteristic and is supportive of the student, and the school shall take into consideration the safety, health and well-being of the student in deciding whether to request permission from the parent or legal guardian.”

The letter

The board unanimously voted on Nov. 27 to send the letter (with Board Member W. Scott Collins absent and District 5 representative Doug Hudson having officially submitted his resignation, due to moving outside that district).

Because schools couldn’t scrutinize “whether the self-identified gender is legitimate or based on clinical consultation or treatment,” the IRSD board members said, they feared that “this could lead to significant school safety violation, should a student who is not transgender use this premise in order to gain access to private areas within the school.”

The policy, they said, could also put schools in “direct conflict with students and their parents,” which they said would hinder IRSD’s mission to build trust with families and the public.

The draft regulation allows students in Delaware access to bathrooms and locker rooms based on their gender identify. But other laws surrounding the issue have yet to be clearly resolved in the court system.

All of these situations could put IRSD in the target of a lawsuit, officials said.

Additionally, they said, most of IRSD’s bathrooms and locker rooms were “built to serve multiple people of the same sex, so private space is nearly nonexistent,” which could mean construction costs if the district opted to build additional bathrooms.

They also said they felt the State’s mandatory policy language would overshadow “reasonable local input.”

“The Indian River School District maintains that this issue should be resolved through legislation and not through the regulatory process in order to protect all students in the district process,” the letter concludes. “Therefore, the board and administration do not support Regulation 225.”

Steele said there has been little support for the revised regulation among the Southern state legislators, school administrators or the Delaware School Boards Association.

The parents

The proposed regulation got a hostile response from some district parents. Dozens of community members had organized before the board meeting on Monday to wear matching red shirts in opposition to Regulation 225. Almost all of them said the amendment reduces parental rights.

“We’re not against a community or person for their choice they made,” said Linda Schroeder. “We’re against that the fact that …the Department of Education wants to take away our rights away as a parent, not knowing these things that are detrimental to our children and giving the authority to someone else.”

“This is not a hate or gay/lesbian issue,” said Sharon Chrzanowski, but she later added, “We cannot normalize gender dysphoria [or appease] a small number of delusional kids and groups with imaginary genitals and skin color.”

“No one should be so open-minded that they willingly give their parental rights to the government,” said Chrzanowski. “Parents do not have to agree with all the choices that their children make, and they are there to guide them, not the government. How can a school employee decide if a parent is supportive enough of a child crossdressing? This sets a very dangerous precedent for more rights to be taken from parents.”

“I personally will invest my time, my money and my name to join the impending lawsuit against the State of Delaware,” said Kay Fox, a mother of five.

Parent Todd Mumford suggested the policy would create secrecy between parents and children, which he said is how sexual predators and human traffickers prey on victims. Other people suggested that girls who have experienced rape or molestation could be troubled to see students they perceive as male enter a ladies’ restroom.

Allowed to speak beyond his three-minute time limit, Larry Mayo thanked the board for the letter and went on to suggest filing articles of impeachment against the governor and Board of Education, if only to send a message to the State.

Conversely, Ken Currie argued that the regulations “are inadequate, and they don’t go far enough. … Here’s what the problem of these kids are: suicide five times the national average. This is serious. This is not about gender pronouns. That’s not going to do much for them at all. They are a group at risk. … Do we really think that 225 is going to get at heart of suicide five times the national average?”

Meanwhile, he argued that teachers should be teaching, not having to counsel kids through major issues.

“They’re children in need. Some may say it’s by their choice, or chance or accident. I don’t care. They’re children in need,” Currie said.

Although they all offered “yes” votes on sending the letter of opposition, none of the board members spoke any further on the topic for the benefit of the audience. Later, Board Member Rodney Layfield touted the overall safety of the schools, and Board Member Donald Hattier agreed when Larry Mayo said, “Regulations should be subordinate to the legislation.”

School board meetings rarely have a high public attendance unless there is a hot-topic issue. Steele thanked everyone for attending and being involved.

The last word

The deadline for public comment is Monday, Dec. 4. After public comments, DOE Secretary Susan Bunting will make the final decision on the proposed regulation. Although she could approve it as early as January, Steele said, “The timeline has been pushed back. There has been quite a bit of opposition to this.”

Full details about the governor’s memo, proposed regulation, meeting minutes and feedback are online at www.doe.k12.de.us/antidiscrimination.

The November Monthly Register of Regulations is posted online at http://regulations.delaware.gov/services/register.shtml.

Public comments may be submitted until Monday, Dec. 4:

• Email comments to DOEregulations.comment@doe.k12.de.us.

• Mail comments to Delaware Department of Education; RE: 225 Prohibition of Discrimination; 401 Federal St., Ste. 2; Dover, DE 19901.