School board rejects California law protecting transgendered students

BY admin

March 16 2004 12:00 AM ET

A small California school district has refused to recognize a state law banning discrimination against transsexuals, a decision that could cost it millions of dollars in state and federal funding. Three of five trustees on the board of the Westminster School District in Orange County said they oppose the rules because they are Christians. "I might take a lot of heat for it today, but the rewards are going to be
great in heaven," said Judy Ahrens, one of the three. Ahrens, Helena Rutkowski, and Blossie Marquez-Woodcock were criticized by the remaining two trustees, school administrators, and parents. "We do not see this as a moral issue," said Trish Montgomery, a spokeswoman for the district's superintendent and other administrators. "It is a matter of complying with the law."

The current policy does not reflect a state regulation prohibiting discrimination based on "perceived" gender, including people who consider themselves transsexual. The three opposing board members say the law allows young children and staff to immorally redefine their sexual identity. Their stance could force state and federal agencies to withhold up to $40 million for the district's 17 schools--two thirds of its budget. Westminster is the only district in the state that has hesitated to update its antidiscrimination policies, said Gary Page, the state education department official who reviewed Westminster. The district's current code also does not explicitly protect gay students and staff from discrimination, but the board has yet to discuss that part of the state code in depth. The district meets again on the issue April 1 and has until April 12 to comply with the new laws. After that, it will be open to formal challenges, said Michael Hersher, an attorney for the education department.

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