COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — The Ohio Board of Education head hours of public testimony on Tuesday on a resolution that could roll back new federal protections for LGBTQ+ students, safeguards already under scrutiny in the court system.
Board member Brendon Shea introduced the resolution this week during the September meeting under the title “Resolution to Support Parents, Schools, and Districts in Rejecting Harmful, Coercive, and Burdensome Gender Identity Policies,” a move that LGBTQ+ rights advocates said could threaten the safety of children. The 19-member board is expected to vote on the resolution in October.
The resolution is in response to changes made in June to Title IX, a federal program protecting people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities in local and state schools, agencies, and institutions that receive federal funding. The changes expanded the protection to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Shea, of London, argued that “sex is not arbitrarily ‘assigned’ at birth but rather identifies an unchangeable fact” and said the new Title IX rules “would place girls and women at increased risk for harassment and sexual assault by males who claim a female identity.” A 2018 study conducted by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, however, found no evidence that allowing transgender people to use public facilities that align with their gender identity increases safety risks.
The resolution argues against requiring school sports to be based on gender identity rather than biological sex and against requiring students and staff to use a child’s preferred name and pronouns. It also would ask the state legislature to require districts to disclose information to parents about a student’s gender identity.
If approved, the resolution would require Ohio’s superintendent of public instruction to inform each public school district and institution to not amend “local policies or procedures” based on the new Title IX guidance.
But the new Title IX guidance is already facing a legal challenge, with Ohio one of the states involved.
A lawsuit filed by Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost and 21 other attorneys general said the new policies are illegal. In July, a federal judge in Tennessee ruled in their favor, temporarily blocking parts of the new Title IX protections. A final ruling is still pending.
The prospect of rolling back the new Title IX protections, whether at the state level or through the courts, is drawing strong reactions.
“The [board] must stop this toxic resolution in its tracks,” Cynthia Peeples, founding director of Honesty for Ohio Education, said. “It builds on a foundation of falsehoods and attacks that certain Ohio policymakers have copied from divisive, extremist national groups with no concern for the wellbeing of Ohio’s young people.”
Equality Ohio’s Public Policy Director Maria Bruno said the resolution is harmful to LGBTQ+ students and “misstates science around transgender identity and frankly, just the nature of biology.”
“My whole week has been talking to parents of transgender children — they’re very worried, they’re worried about their kids,” Bruno said. “A lot of them have already had situations where their kids have been isolated and bullied, and they know this not going to help.”
Bruno said the board’s consideration of the matter skirts federal law, intervening in protections that it should not have jurisdiction over.
During Tuesday’s meeting, many students and parents from the community echoed Peeples and Bruno, speaking against the resolution.
“I feel like who I am has become a really contentious topic — I’m not a divisive concept,” said student Connor McLaren. “I am a teenage girl who wants to graduate from high school, go to college, get a job and live my life.”
However, some parents agree with the resolution, saying sexuality and gender identity should not be a factor in schools. Hilliard parent Lisa Chaffee said she would like to see a compromise regarding how the LGBTQ+ community is discussed in the classroom.
It’s a parental rights issue, Chaffee said, and should largely be left between a parent and their children at home.
“If the child wishes to be referred to by a specific name, then they should initiate that conversation with the teacher, not the other way around,” Chaffee said. “We need to make sure teachers can educate on the topic without promoting the ideology.”
“By voting yes you will support the local school districts — they will not have to make policies that go against their parents and children simply to get money from the government,” said Cathy Pultz during Tuesday’s meeting.
Amanda Erickson, director of education and outreach at Kaleidoscope Youth Center, said some districts are already implementing guidelines that are not as inclusive to LGBTQ+ students even as the rules remain in flux.
“What we see with districts being apprehensive is trying to be proactive about not being as inclusive and open, encouraging teachers to be too careful,” Erickson said.
In a message on Sept. 16 to Westerville City Schools, Superintendent John Kellogg said staff should not ask students for their pronouns, instead opting for a student to indicate what pronouns they want to be called. In addition, Kellogg said students should use the restroom that corresponds to the recorded sex.
And in Hilliard, community members debated if teachers should be allowed to wear badges identifying them as supportive of LGBTQ+ students after some parents expressed concern over a code on the back that could lead to websites inappropriate for children.
Written testimony from Tuesday’s meeting can be read here.