California school district snubs state, adopts own antidiscrimination policy
April 14 2004 12:00 AM ET
Trustees of an Orange County, Calif., school district embroiled in a dispute over transgender rights passed an antidiscrimination policy that apparently conflicts with state law and could threaten the district's funding. The state Department of Education had threatened to withhold millions in government funding if the board did not adopt suggested policy changes by Monday. But the Westminster School District board voted 3-2 to adopt its own policy, claiming that state-mandated protection for transgendered students is immoral. The district's new policy says that the "perception of the alleged victim is not relevant to the determination of 'gender.'... It is the perception of the alleged discriminator which is relevant." The policy differs from the one accepted by the other 1,400 districts in the state, said district spokeswoman Trish Montgomery. The majority of Westminster trustees "don't want to give the person the right to define their own sex," she said.
The three board members who voted for the policy--Judy Ahrens, Blossie Marquez-Woodcock, and Helena Rutkowski--did not immediately return telephone calls seeking comment. Jack O'Connell, the state superintendent of public instruction, said the Education Department's legal staff is reviewing the policy to see if it complies with state law. The state was expected to issue an official response Tuesday. "Every child in this state deserves unequivocal protection from discrimination," O'Connell said in a statement on Monday. "I am disappointed that in 2004 this fundamental civil right is being debated." About 200 people attended Monday's board meeting, most expressing support for the state definition of gender. Westminster mayor Margie Rice said that while she also finds the state law immoral, she feels the board members "have a responsibility to obey the law.... There are other ways of changing it if they disagree with it. But this is not right."
The district, about 35 miles southeast of Los Angeles, serves 10,000 elementary and middle school students. More than $40 million of its $68 million budget comes from state and federal sources. District officials initially thought about two thirds of its state funding would be threatened if the state policy was not adopted, but Montgomery said that amount was reduced to $10 million. Bank of America already has withheld approval of a $16 million line of credit to pay for facilities improvements because the district's funding source is at risk, Montgomery said. The three board members' stance has angered some in the community, and recall petitions are circulating to remove two of them.