School board in California rejects pro-transgender law
April 03 2004 12:00 AM ET
The majority of members on an Orange County, Calif., school board voted to reject implementation of a state-mandated antidiscrimination policy following a raucous meeting at which hundreds of parents and teachers protested. Trustees Judy Ahrens, Blossie Marquez-Woodcock, and Helena Rutkowski argued
that adopting the state's definition of gender for the Westminster School District would be immoral and promote transsexuality. "The board certainly did not give any indication that they were planning to
budge," said district spokeswoman Trish Montgomery on Thursday. Donna Scott, a parent, told the board members they should obey the law. "How dare you use my child as a human shield for your discrimination, your fear, your hatred," she said.
About three dozen people said they support the board members. Richard Sturges, a former principal, applauded their position. The three trustees have blocked a proposed change to the district's codes that would allow transgendered students--those who define their gender in a way that differs from their biological sex--the right to pursue discrimination complaints. The stance could have devastating implications for the district, because up to $40 million in state and federal funding--more than half the district's budget--hinges on the board's complying with state law.
Jack O'Connell, the state superintendent of public instruction, sent a letter to the district, calling the three members' position "disturbing" and urging them to change their stance. "If you refuse, I will take all available steps to compel your compliance," O'Connell wrote. "Do not victimize the very people you claim you are serving." Michael Hersher, an attorney for the California Department of Education, said the district has until April 12 to comply with state law. After that, what happens isn't clear. "There's no law that says what the financial consequence of noncompliance is, if any," he said. Hersher noted that face-offs between the state and school districts have occurred before, over the issue of English language instruction. In those cases, he said, state and local officials negotiated agreements, and no funding was cut off.
Ahrens has previously said she doesn't believe there will be any financial impact on the district, calling the suggestion of a funding cutoff "blackmail" by the state to accept its agenda. "Morality is not for sale, at any price," she said. Hundreds of parents and teachers packed the Thursday night meeting at a district middle school in Huntington Beach. Many of them waved signs emblazoned with slogans voicing opposition to the three-member majority's stance. The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California also called on the board to reverse its position. "The school board's commitment to preserving the right to discriminate illustrates precisely why the law was necessary," said Christopher Calhoun of the ACLU. "Every student deserves a safe place to learn, regardless of the biases of school board members."