IRSD opposes proposed transgender student regulations; DSEA executive board supports Reg 225

DAGSBORO – Parental discretion is advised.

Rights of parents stood as the recurring thread opposing proposed transgender student regulations by the state of Delaware at a Nov. 27 Indian River School District board of education meeting punctuated by the district’s formal opposition to Regulation 225.

As proposed by Gov. John Carney and the Delaware Department of Education, Regulation 225 would allow all Delaware public school students to self-identify their gender or race without parental input, notification or consent.

Attendees at the Nov. 27 Indian River School District school board meeting applaud in support of the district’s opposition to Regulation 225.

The pending regulations would give students the opportunity to participate on the sports team consistent with their gender identity and select a “preferred name” that school officials would be obligated to use in their daily interactions.

In addition to the Indian River School District, Regulation 225 is opposed by more than a dozen state legislators – including House members from Sussex County – as well as Delaware Family Policy Council and scores of parents through commentary offered through the DOE website.

“I am here on behalf of my son and daughter-in-law, my daughter and their children,” said Larry Mayo, among the speakers who voiced opposition at the Nov. 27 school board meeting. “As parents and grandparents, we delegate, not surrender our God-given right to educate our children. Nowhere in any constitution, the United States, the state of Delaware, any statute or law or ordinance have we surrendered that right. It has no lawful authority.”

“I don’t think half of us would have been here tonight if it wasn’t the fact that our parental rights are being taken from us, from as early as kindergarten through 12th grade,” said Linda Schroeder. “As a person who was sexually abused as a child, going to a bathroom where there could be a man changing … hiding from home … it would have shocked me. I would have been scared. And I know I am not the only person in 1985 when I was here in school. I am sure there are more children who are going through this that you don’t even know. The counselors don’t know because we are afraid to tell. We are afraid to talk about it. I think the emotional stress could come back to haunt the school district also as far as lawsuits.”

Larry Mayo voices opposition to Regulation 225 at the Nov. 27 Indian River School District board of education meeting.

Added Ms. Schroeder, “We are not against a community or a person for their choice that they make. We are against the fact that you want to take our parental rights. Not you (the board/district) directly but the Department of Education wants to take our rights away as a parent – not knowing these things that are detrimental to our children – and give the authority to somebody else to decide what is best of pour child.”

An official letter from the Indian River School District and its board of education opposing the anti-discriminatory transgender student regulations was sent Nov. 28 to Department of Education Sec. Dr. Susan Bunting.

The letter stemmed from discussion at a Nov. 16 legislative breakfast that included superintendents of Sussex County, board of education presidents and local legislators.

IRSD Superintendent Mark Steele and school board president Charles Bireley were among those in attendance.

“There was no support for Regulation 225 at that meeting,” said Mr. Steele. “In discussion with Mr. Bireley at the meeting, I wanted to do something that would be a powerful message back to the Department of Education and to the governor’s office. We decided we thought a powerful way to send a message is to send a letter to both the Department of Education and the governor, signed by myself and all of the board members.”

That letter, signed by Mr. Steele and nine IRSD board members, reads as follows:

Dear Secretary Bunting,

The primary purpose of a school board is to oversee and adopt policy to provide the best possible conditions for educating students.  The Indian River School District (IRSD) Board of Education accepts the responsibility of developing polices that will protect all students and staff.  In light of that charge, there is a serious concern regarding the proposed Regulation 225 – Anti-Discrimination, that is being considered by the Delaware Department of Education.  The regulation and model policy currently being considered dictate the language that must appear in the District policy, thus blocking the school board from providing reasonable local input.  The regulation transfers all possible litigation and construction costs from the state to the local school boards.  The IRSD Board of Education respectfully voices the following concerns regarding Regulation 225: 

  • The regulation prohibits schools from scrutinizing whether the self-identified gender is legitimate and based upon clinical consultation or treatment. This could lead to significant school safety violations should a student who is not transgender use the premise of this regulation to gain access to private areas within the school.  This could open the school district to substantial litigation.
  • The regulation requires the Board to adopt a policy that will place the district in direct conflict with students and their parents. This conflict could lead to potential litigation and could damage the district’s ability to develop trust with parents and school district stakeholders.
  • The regulation requires the district to allow transgender students to use the bathroom and locker room on the basis of their gender identity. The law surrounding this issue is unresolved by the court system, increasing the likelihood of litigation.  This regulation places the burden of litigation costs solely on the school district and not on the state.  Our bathrooms and locker rooms were constructed to serve multiple people of the same sex. Therefore, private space is nearly non-existent.  Most schools will be forced to renovate existing bathrooms and locker rooms to provide a higher level of privacy to all students.  Once again, the school district will be required to shoulder the burden of the costs for these extensive renovations.

The IRSD maintains that this issue should be resolved through legislation and not a regulatory process in order to protect all school districts.  Therefore, our school board and administration do not support Regulation 225.  If you have any questions, please feel free to contact any school board member or me.”

On July 17, Gov. Carney directed Delaware’s Department of Education to develop specific guidelines – by regulation – for school districts and charter schools to use in developing their own local policies that prohibit discrimination against students. This regulation is designed to help districts and charters create consistent policies statewide that prohibit discrimination based on the basis of 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 effort spurred by Gov. Carney also includes a model anti-discrimination policy that each district and charter could adopt, or tailor and adopt, to suit the needs of its students.

Mr. Steele mentioned that the Delaware School Boards Association, a voluntary, non-profit organization of school boards which seeks to further public education and assist board members in carrying out their responsibilities,

Last week, Regulation 225 landed the support of the executive board of the Delaware State Education Association that governs the approximate 13,000-member organization. The executive board voted to support Regulation 225 at its Nov. 29 meeting, according to DSEA president Mike Matthews.

“The issue of transgender students in our schools is timely, but has also been quite controversial. It’s a topic that arouses emotions on both sides and it’s one that has garnered a great deal of interest in recent weeks, particularly by those opposed,” said Mr. Matthews.  “Out of respect for our membership, as president I decided to put this issue before our executive board for a vote. I wanted to best inform the board ahead of the vote, so I sent an email to all local presidents around the state with a copy of Regulation 225 asking for them to solicit feedback from their members. More than three dozen members responded to the request for feedback.”

“There was good feedback on both sides of Regulation 225 – for and against. Based on the comments and debate, the board voted on Wednesday (Nov. 29) to support Regulation 225. There were votes for the motion, votes against the motion, and votes to abstain,” said Mr. Matthews. “Because of the vote of support, DSEA will be preparing a statement to submit to the Department of Education ahead of the Dec. 4 deadline.”

Legislators voice opposition

Recently, 14 members of the House of Representatives expressed their opposition to DOE’s proposed transgender regulations in a joint letter to Dr. Bunting, who served as IRSD superintendent prior to assuming her role with DOE this past January.

Sussex County lawmakers on board in opposition include Rep. Ruth Briggs King, R-Georgetown; Rep. Rich Collins, R-Millsboro; Rep. Ron Gray, R-Selbyville; Rep. Danny Short, R-Seaford; Rep. Tim Dukes, R-Laurel; Rep. Dave Wilson, R-Lincoln; and Rep. Harvey Kenton, R-Milford.

In the letter, state representatives jointly state that “Delaware’s Gender Identity Nondiscrimination Act of 2013 forbids discrimination on the basis of gender identity in housing, employment, public works contracting, public accommodations, and insurance. The law was not applied to Title 14, which covers public education. The exclusion of public education from this statute was deliberate, allowing school districts to objectively weigh their transgender student policies in consultation with the citizens to which they are directly accountable.”

Legislators further state that the “regulations proposed by your agency are not authorized under the law and seek to usurp local control in favor of imposing a politically motivated ideological solution on all public schools. Just as disturbing, the proposed rules contain no student age threshold and have no provision for safeguarding parental involvement. As structured, these rules would allow the youngest of students to make profound life decisions without the knowledge or input of their parents.”

The state representatives’ letter to Dr. Bunting also states that “additionally, the DOE has apparently not assessed the potential risk these rules would impose on the general student population and the administrative and liability issues it could create for local schools. Some advocates of these rules have said they are needed to protect transgender students from harassment, but students are already shielded by existing anti-bullying policies that apply to any student subjected to disrespectful or abusive treatment.”

Rep. Collins has stated if the proposed rules are promulgated he would organize a lawsuit to strike them down.

“The problem is that they don’t have any law that authorizes this,” said Rep. Collins. “It’s a very simple concept: you have to have a law and then you use regulation to enforce the law.”

More public comment

Prior to public comment at the Nov. 27 meeting, Mr. Bireley delivered the following statement for clarity.

“To be clear this regulation is a creation of state government and not the Indian River School District. Whether it goes into effect is beyond our control and (if) it goes into effect we will follow the law. However, there are some significant concerns with the amendment as presently drafted because it will expose public schools to potential litigation, expenses and tangible construction costs,” said Mr. Bireley. “Many support and disagree with the regulations for a variety of reasons. But these financial issues must be sorted out first before the regulation proceeds any further.”

Todd Mumford, one of the speakers during Nov. 27 public commentary, focused on the issue of sexual predators.

“One of the things that sexual predators do to groom potential victims is create secrecy with a child. This regulation attempts to do that. It creates distance between the child and the parent. This regulation seeks to do that. They also allow the child to do things that their parents would not approve of. Again, that is the whole premise behind the regulation and not informing the parents, because there is a belief that if the parents do not approve of a child’s gender choice or racial choice or whichever choice that is being addressed that somehow that child will be in more danger,” said Mr. Mumford. “There is a lot of things in this regulation, but the overwhelming theme is about parent involvement. What is amazing to me is that this regulation has been introduced by our governor, written by people that we elected, supported by people that we elected and is using the same behaviors that child sexual predators use to create victims. That is an amazing tragedy in the American system.”

Shirts with wording opposed to Regulation 225 were in abundance at the Nov. 27 Indian River School District school board meeting.

Kay Fox, mother of five children including two high school graduates of the Indian River district, said the wording of Regulation 225 makes the “protection of a minority group effective at the expense of the majority group. It strips away the public fundamental right of parents. It is distressing to say the least that all sides and vested parties were not included in the committee tasked with the development and language of such an important document, and the legislators have not been given the opportunity to bring this to vote.”

“I am a proud IR parent. And let me be clear no one should be so open-minded that you willingly give your parental rights to government. Where would it end?” said Sharon Chrzanowski. “This is not a hate or a gay and lesbian issue. Parents do not have to agree with all of the choices that their children make. They are there to guide them and are ultimately responsible for them, not government. How can a school employee decide if a parent is supportive enough if a child is cross-dressing? This sets a very dangerous precedent for more rights to be taken from parents. School is for education, not sex education in kindergarten while suggesting children can choose a gender or race other than how God made them. This policy is disruptive, distracting and insane. It opens up the district to lawsuits, harassment, disciplinary action as well as sexual assault of innocent students. Children with special needs do not need to be exposed to this, nor do survivors of rape and molestation.”

“This is essentially allowing a student to keep a life-changing secret from parents. No matter how they put it, this is removing our parental rights,” said Sheila Warrington in her trip to the podium during public commentary. “We have a right to be informed.”

Jasmine Justice gestures during her public commentary in opposition to Regulation 225.

Regulation 225 opponent Jasmine Justice said the proposal is “vague and poorly thought out.” She added that although the intent of the policy is to foster school environment that is a welcoming, inclusive place where all students can flourish, Regulation 225 “will be giving school districts more power over students than the parents will feel comfortable with. Please do not open Pandora’s Box.”

Mr. Mayo went a step further, suggesting impeachment.

“This regulation has no lawful substance to it. Therefore, I move – and I would suggest that you put some pressure on our legislators because they are not going to do it on their own unless we push them – to file immediately articles on impeachment. We all know it won’t happen in the end. But just filing it may send a message strong enough to stop this kind of crap,” said Mr. Mayo, who applauded the district and board for their opposing stance. “God bless you for this stance on this issue. And may God bless the people upstate … that they may get some sense.”

National spotlight on Fox News

In mid-November, Fox News recently reported on the proposal in an interview with Nicole Theis, founder and president of the Delaware Family Policy Council.

“The language of the regulation in Delaware actually says that students can self-identify their gender or their race at any age at any time and without parents’ knowledge or consent if the school perceives the parents to be unsupportive or a non-ally,” Ms. Theis said in the Fox News interview.

“We are seeing more outrage about this issue than any issue we have ever seen before. As a mother just looking at the language of the regulation it is clear to me that it creates an environment where children are encouraged to keep secrets from their parents,” Ms. Theis stated. “Of course, we don’t think that is beneficial to students at all, but when we’re looking at students being able to self-identify at any age and for conversations to be able to happen without me as a parent knowing about it because someone in the school system deems me to be unsupportive, whatever that means, yeah it’s a real problem. We’re seeing thousands of people responding to the issue and sending their comments into the Department of Education, which we are encouraging everyone to do.”

Public comment deadline  

The public is invited to provide formal comment on the proposed anti-discrimination regulation until Monday, Dec. 4.

To submit comment or feedback to DOE:

  • Email DOEregulations.comment@doe.k12.de.us; or
  • Mail comments to: Delaware Department of Education, RE: 225 Prohibition of Discrimination, 401 Federal Street, Suite 2, Dover, DE 19901

For additional information, including a copy of the draft regulation, and meeting notes, visit the website at https://www.doe.k12.de.us/antidiscrimination.

Indian River School District’s website – www.irsd.net – also provides links to the draft regulation and the Department of Education for comment.

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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