California school district opposes law to protect transgendered students
April 01 2004 12:00 AM ET
Orange County, Calif., school trustee Judy Ahrens knows her stand against a state law that protects the rights of transgendered students might jeopardize more than half of her small district's annual budget. But as far as Ahrens is concerned, the Department of Education's mandate that the Westminster School District update its antidiscrimination policy is a threat to students' values and education. "I'm really sad that the moral compass isn't out there," Ahrens said. "I'm really disappointed that economics is trying to outweigh morality and protecting our kids in this district."
The 1999 state law gives students who define their gender in a way that differs from their biological sex the right to pursue discrimination complaints. Westminster is the only district in California refusing to revise its policy to conform with the state's education code. Ahrens believes it's immoral to define gender beyond biological terms and that accepting the policy would promote homosexuality and transsexuality. Fellow trustees Blossie Marquez-Woodcock and Helena Rutkowski voted with her on the five-member board. Jim Reed, board president, said those trustees should try to change the state law rather than simply refusing to revise the district's policy. "To be in violation of the law, to be risking so much to our students, our teachers, our administration, our district as a whole, for this particular stance in this arena, I feel that it's foolhardy to do that," Reed said.
The board will meet on Thursday to again consider the change. Trustee Jo-Ann Purcell hopes at least one of the holdout board members will switch their vote and allow the change. "It's unbelievable that they would take a stance against something that nobody else interprets the way they do," Purcell said. The dispute could have serious ramifications for the district, which is located about 35 miles southeast of Los Angeles and serves 10,000 elementary and middle school students. More than $40 million of its $68 million budget comes from state and federal sources. That money could be cut off if the district isn't in compliance with state law by April 12. Already, Bank of America has withheld approval of a $16 million line of credit to pay for facilities improvements because the district's funding source is at risk, said district spokeswoman Trish Montgomery.
Ahrens said the suggestion that the district could lose its funding is "blackmail" by the state, which she claims is pushing local officials to accept an agenda of openly tolerating homosexuality."I'm calling their bluff," she said. Ahrens worries that changing the district's definition of gender will promote cross-dressing or that "mischievous" young boys could decide to declare themselves female in order to get into the girls' restrooms. Montgomery said rules governing restrooms are set on the basis of a student's biological sex, not gender.