School Board set to tackle trans bathroom law

Divisive issue will likely be discussed during June board retreat

The St. Charles Parish School Board has stepped up its next move on a federal mandate that allows transgender students to use a bathroom based on their chosen sex, but it’s doing it amid a growing political firestorm nationally.

School Board Member Clarence H. Savoie called it “a tough issue.”

“That’s why it takes a lot of thoughtfulness on how this affects everybody,” Savoie said. “You can’t discriminate against them, but to create another environment for them is something we have to look at carefully. I don’t want to commit to any policy that would jeopardize the students and restrict them from being who they are.”

Savoie confirmed the School Board has not discussed the mandate yet, but expects it will likely do it at a board retreat in June.

“We have to follow the law, but we have to do it in a common sense way to provide opportunities for kids in a safe environment and without bias no matter what you call yourself,” he said. “You have the right to be whoever you want to be. This is America.”

As a member of the National PTA, Savoie said the organization has passed a resolution making transgender students “a protected class.”

As a St. Charles Parish School Board member, he said his efforts will focus on making “it right for everybody,” adding, “I wouldn’t want to do it any other way.”

The guidelines, released by U.S. Departments of Education and Justice on May 9, mandate schools districts, colleges and universities to allow transgender students to use the restroom and locker rooms that correspond with their chosen gender. Under the sex discrimination law known as Title IX, the federal government can pull education funding from schools that don’t meet the guidelines.

Since their release, the issue has left a nation divided over the mandate.

In St. Charles Parish, Kayla Brown of St. Rose agreed with transgender students using facilities based on the chosen sex.

“I believe that a person who identifies as a man or woman should be able to go into the bathroom they identify with,” Brown said.

But Cerias Pierre of Boutte, who has three daughters, disagreed.

“I don’t think they should … because you’d have to share with children,” Pierre said. “I wouldn’t want a man trying to be a woman in the restroom with my daughter. I don’t think that’s right.

School Board member John “Jay” Robichaux said he also anticipates the board will address the issue soon, although it appears they may be waiting to see the outcome of the state Attorney General’s efforts to challenge the mandate.Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry called the move “federal overreach” and announced he would strongly defend the state and citizens from the mandate.

In a letter that Landry said he sent to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), Board of Regents, Louisiana Community and Technical College System Board, and Office of Juvenile Justice, he maintained the Obama administration does “not have legal authority to require our children to share locker rooms and bathrooms with children of the opposite sex.”

Landry maintained the directive would create an environment that could more easily expose 99 percent of the children in the system to sexual predators.

BESE President Jim Garvey said the Louisiana Constitution prohibits BESE from deciding day-to-day operations with school systems, potentially leaving the final call on the transgender guidelines to local school boards.

According to Board of Education spokesman Ken Pastorick, the U.S. Department of Education has advised all school systems by letter interpreting pre-existing federal law to require schools to grant specific rights to children based on the gender identity listed by their parents.

“Louisiana’s children deserve to be treated fairly, no matter their race, sex or gender identity,” Pastorick said. The Louisiana Department of Education’s legal staff is reviewing the directive and will assist Louisiana school districts “in addressing the needs of their students,” he added.

In a May 13 announcement, President Barack Obama maintains these children should be treated with dignity and said the new federal rules on school bathrooms also are aimed at protecting transgender student from bullying. He stipulated ignoring the guidelines could jeopardize federal funding.

According to St. Charles Parish Public Schools spokeswoman Stevie Crovetto, “The federal government has released this information very recently. The Louisiana School Boards Association has been in touch with its legal counsel on the matter as well as with the Louisiana Department of Education. The St. Charles Parish School Board has not yet had an opportunity to discuss this matter, although it has received the information.”

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