Calif. school system fights transgender law

/ Source: The Associated Press

A school district in conservative Orange County is risking the loss of millions in state aid for refusing to update its anti-discrimination policy to protect transgender students.

Westminster school board trustee Judy Ahrens said the state Education Department policy promotes homosexuality, and she will not give in to what she called blackmail. “I’m calling their bluff,” she said.

Westminster is the only one of California’s 1,425 school districts to refuse to endorse a 1999 state law that gives boys who consider themselves girls and girls who regard themselves as boys the right to pursue discrimination complaints.

Two other trustees voted with Ahrens on the five-member school board.

“I’m really sad that the moral compass isn’t out there,” she said. “I’m really disappointed that economics is trying to outweigh morality and protecting our kids in this district.”

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.

That money could be cut off if the district is not in compliance with state law by April 12. A final decision will not be made until after the deadline, said Michael Hersher, a lawyer for the state Education Department.

Bank won’t OK line of credit
There have already been repercussions: Bank of America has withheld approval of a $16 million line of credit for school improvements because the district’s funding is at risk, said district spokeswoman Trish Montgomery.

The board voted against the policy earlier this year and refused to reconsider in February. It will meet on Thursday to take up the matter again.

The issue has upset some residents of Orange County, where conservative school boards have in recent years moved to ban a high school’s gay-straight alliance club and tried to sue Mexico to recoup the cost of educating immigrant children.

Some parents have started gathering signatures in a recall campaign against the three members blocking the policy change.

‘Above the law’
“People are shocked,” said Lisa Mathews, who has two children in a Westminster elementary school. “It’s like they seem to feel that they are above the law, like their position on the school board affords them immunity from state laws.”

Transgender students are often subject to teasing and harassment in elementary schools, which can escalate into violence when they grow older, said Roslyn Manley, a member of the county Human Relations Commission’s Transgender Task Force.

She noted the case of Eddie “Gwen” Araujo, a San Francisco Bay-area teenager who prosecutors say was killed in 2002 when others found out Araujo was biologically male.

Jim Reed, the Westminster school board president, said Ahrens and the other dissenters should try to change the law rather than defy it.

“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,” he said.