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State school board debates transgender bathroom issue

Published: Monday, September 12, 2016 @ 1:10 PM


            In this May 17, 2016, file photo, a new sticker designates a gender neutral bathroom at Nathan Hale High School in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
            Elaine Thompson
In this May 17, 2016, file photo, a new sticker designates a gender neutral bathroom at Nathan Hale High School in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)(Elaine Thompson)

COLUMBUS — Ohio’s state school board debated Monday morning whether to send to schools legal arguments on the school transgender bathroom issue before tabling the issue.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice issued a directive requiring schools to provide transgender students access to the restroom of the gender with which they identify. Then in late August, a federal judge issued a ruling temporarily blocking that directive.

State school board member Sarah Fowler on Monday repeated her request from June that the Ohio Department of Education send every school district a copy of a letter from Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, attacking the federal position as “an unlawful and ill-advised federal decree.”

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The ensuing debate, before the state board’s executive committee, got tense.

“We didn’t start this. It was the Obama administration that started this,” board member Kathleen McGervey said. “They issued a heavy-handed letter that was not backed up by law and they were bullying schools into implementing policy that is not required by law.”

There was debate about simply posting DeWine’s letter on the state board website, but board member Pat Bruns questioned where the line would be drawn about posting material that could be part of upcoming litigation.

Board member Stephanie Dodd suggested that if ODE posted DeWine’s letter, it also should post a copy of the model school policy on transgender students from the advocacy group GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network).

State board President Tom Gunlock eventually asked Fowler if she wanted a formal vote on the issue. Fowler said she would like to make a few amendments to her resolution, then bring it back at the October meeting.