November 20, 2017 at 10:58 am EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Delaware schools anti-bias proposal under fire
Delaware anti-bias, gay news, washington blade, nondiscrimination policy

Delaware Gov. John Carney is calling on the state’s school districts to accommodate trans students in locker rooms and restrooms.
(U.S. Air Force photo/Greg L. Davis)

A conservative group that opposes LGBT rights has launched a campaign to kill a proposal by Delaware Gov. John Carney that calls on the state’s school districts to “work with students and families on providing access to locker rooms and bathrooms that correspond to the students’ gender identity or gender expression.”

The group, Delaware Family Council, has circulated an online petition denouncing the proposed policy. It’s also calling on its supporters to submit comments opposing the proposal to a special email address set up by the state to obtain the views of state residents during a public comment period that ends on Dec. 4.

At Carney’s request, the Delaware Department of Education developed a draft model nondiscrimination policy for the state’s public and charter schools that includes strong protections for LGBT students.

In the area of team sports, the proposed policy states, “A student shall have the opportunity to participate on the team that is consistent with the student’s gender identity regardless of the student’s assigned sex at birth.”

The Rehoboth Beach LGBT advocacy community services group CAMP Rehoboth last week issued an email alert urging LGBT Delaware residents and their supporters to submit comments backing the policy to the same state email address: DOEregulations.comment@doe.k12.de.us.

“CAMP Rehoboth’s LGBTQ Council of Elders, which has been working to improve anti-discrimination efforts in the school districts in Sussex County, has reviewed the regulation and the model non-discrimination policy proposed by the Delaware Department of Education and generally supports them and encourages their immediate adoption,” the group says in its alert statement.

“The proposed regulation is an excellent first step to ensure a safe and affirming school environment for all students, free from discrimination,” the statement says.

In a posting on its website, DelawareFamilies.org, the Delaware Family Policy Council points to a section of the proposed regulation, called Education Regulation 225, that it says would allow students to “self-identify” their gender at their school without their parents’ knowledge or consent. The statement also denounces the proposed regulation’s call for school districts to work with parents and others to provide access to school locker rooms and bathrooms that are consistent with students’ gender identity.

“No student should ever be pressured to undress, shower, or share overnight accommodations with individuals of the opposite sex, yet these are exactly the kind of situations Regulation 225 promotes,” the statement says.

Alison May, a spokesperson for the state Department of Education, told the Washington Blade in October that Carney’s intent is to ask local school boards to adopt the proposed policy and regulation in a way that meets the needs of their local schools.

“Neither the draft regulation nor the draft model policy require that students be allowed to use a locker room or bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity,” she told the Blade in an email.

However, others familiar with the proposed regulation and policy have said the state’s far reaching non-discrimination law, which, among other things, bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, could be used to make the proposed policy and regulation mandatory for school districts.

Gay rights attorney Mark Purpura, an official with the statewide LGBT group Equality Delaware, said the state’s Department of Education has the authority to require school districts to adopt certain policies.

“The draft regulation would require each school district to adopt their own policy, which policy has to include certain mandatory language, and cannot be inconsistent with the regulation but otherwise is in the discretion of the school district so that it can tailor the policy to fit the needs of the particular district,” Purpura told the Blade.

“It carefully balances statewide policy regarding the protection of students with local control over school districts that is the hallmark of the Delaware education system,” he said.

The CAMP Rehoboth statement points to a national study conducted by the New York-based Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, or GLSEN, which showed that 75 percent of transgender youth who responded to a survey conducted by the group said they do not feel safe at school.

“This is a very important issue for our community,” the CAMP Rehoboth statement says. “We need you to submit a public comment in favor of the regulation. There are anti-LGBTQ groups and others in Delaware that are actively working to oppose this regulation, so it is critical that the DDOE hears from our community in support of the proposed regulation.”

In what she called a “5-Alarm Alert for parents,” Delaware Family Council leader Nicole Theis called on the group’s supporters to submit comments characterizing the proposed policy as anti-family and anti-students’ rights.

“Regulation 225 fails to protect the privacy and safety of all students,” she states in the alert. “Students may claim or ‘self-identity’ as the opposite gender at any time and have access to the locker rooms, showers, restrooms, overnight accommodations, and any school activity (sports team) that is gender specific,” she states.

Delaware State Rep. Rich Collins (R-Sussex County) called the proposed regulation “perverse,” saying he would do all he could to speak out against the proposal.

Carney and Delaware Education Department Secretary Susan Bunting have said a final version of the proposed policy and regulation would be released sometime after the public comment period ends on Dec. 4.

The Delaware State News reports that both have declined to elaborate on what the state would do if local school districts decline to adopt the final version of the policy and regulation.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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