A North Carolina school district voted on Tuesday to allow students to carry pepper spray, which one board member claims may be necessary to protect high school students from being attacked in the bathroom by their transgender classmates.
“Depending on how the courts rule on the bathroom issues, it may be a pretty valuable tool to have on the female students if they go to the bathroom, not knowing who may come in,” said Chuck Hughes of the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education. Hughes’ statement, as the Associated Press reports, was in response to the board decision to amend its safety policies to permit the use of “defensive sprays” on school grounds.
The Tar Heel State is currently engaged in a battle over the constitutionality of House Bill 2, a controversial law passed in March that forces trans people to use the public restroom that does not correspond with their gender identity. In a recent statement, the Department of Justice stated that HB 2 violates federal law outlined in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, national origin and sex. According to the bureau, that protection also extends to gender identity.
On Monday, North Carolina announced that it would fight the Obama administration policy in court, calling HB 2 a “common sense bodily privacy law.” Were the legislation to be struck down through a federal ruling, that could leave trans students in Rowan-Salisbury vulnerable.
Although Hughes claimed that the use of pepper spray on campus would be a protective measure, others disagreed with that characterization. “That's one of the scary things that happens with weapons,” former Salisbury High School student Philip Gatewood, 19, told Charlotte TV station WCNC about the board’s decision. “It's not really used for defensive purposes anymore.”
Travis Allen, who sits on the Board of Education with Hughes, argued that the policy shouldn’t be a concern. After all, being doused with pepper spray isn't nearly as bad as being beaten with a baseball bat.
“Having been pepper sprayed numerous times and being a school resource officer, the baseball bats that your baseball team brings every day to school is a bigger weapon than a canister of pepper spray, that's my thinking on it,” Allen told Charlotte’s WBTV. “A chair from the cafeteria is a bigger weapon than a can of pepper spray.”
The district, located 40 miles outside of Charlotte, exemplifies the struggle schools face in enforcing HB 2. The law has no enforcement guidelines in place, meaning that administrators are forced to set their own policies. According to Raleigh TV station WRAL, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction has yet to offer schools its own “guidance to the state's 115 public school systems about the law or its possible impact on transgender students.”
In the case of the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education, that lack of instruction allowed administrators like Hughes to support policies based on inaccurate information. In the more than 200 localities across the country that allow transgender people to use the restroom that most closely corresponds with their gender identity, there’s never been a single case of a trans person, including students, attacking someone else.
The Rowan-Salisbury policy is set to take effect in the 2016-17 school year, as the AP reports.