Transgender directive stirs controversy here

By Shea Drake sdrake@daily-review.com

The St. Mary Parish school system is seeking legal counsel for direction after the U.S. Department of Education sent letters requiring schools to grant rights — including a choice of restrooms — to children based on gender identity.

Parents, meanwhile, are expressing strong opinions on social media.

At the Central Office Complex, “we’re not doing anything at this time until the state attorney will look at this and get with us about it,” Superintendent Leonard Armato said. “So, we really have no comment on it and are waiting on guidance from the state attorney.”

The Louisiana Department of Education will provide school districts with assistance in addressing students’ needs after reviewing.

“Louisiana’s children deserve to be treated fairly, no matter their race, sex or gender identity,” Louisiana Department of Education spokesperson Ken Pastorick said in an email.

The U.S. Departments of Education and Justice released a letter summarizing a school’s Title IX obligations regarding transgender students and it explains how each department evaluates a school’s compliance with those obligations.

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and its implementing regulations prohibit sex discrimination in educational programs and activities operated by recipients of federal financial assistance.

This includes discrimination based on a student’s gender identity and transgender status.

Gender identity refers to an individual’s internal sense of gender. A person’s gender identity may be different from or the same as the person’s sex assigned at birth, according to the U.S. Education Department and Department of Justice statement.

Transgender describes individuals whose gender identity is different from the sex they were assigned at birth.

For example, a transgender male is someone who identifies as male but was assigned the sex of female at birth. A transgender female is someone who identifies as female but was assigned the sex of male at birth.

“Transgender youth are already at a greater risk of experiencing bullying, harassment, and even violence in schools,” Forum for Equality Executive Director SarahJane Brady said.

“Unfortunately, the statement issued by (Board of Elementary and Secondary Education) President Jim Garvey and the letter from the 32 Louisiana legislators to the Attorney General exacerbates those risks by creating a hostile environment in one of the places they should feel the safest.”

Garvey said he doesn’t believe Title IX prohibits discrimination based on gender identity.

The 32 lawmakers, including state Rep. Beryl Amedee, the Republican who represents eastern St. Mary, wrote to Attorney General Jeff Landry asking for an opinion on whether schools are required to follow the directive.

The letter said the directive “violates the constitutional principles of federalism and states’ rights.”

“Schools should be a safe space for students to learn,” Brady said. “Instead of ostracizing or bullying students because of their differences, we should be providing a safe and nondiscriminatory environment for all students to reach their potential.

“The guidance from the Department of Justice will go a long way to making sure they can.”

Many local parents expressed their comments on The Daily Review’s Facebook page about students using restrooms at schools according to the gender with which they identify, not their birth gender.

Some parents strongly oppose the shared use of the restroom. Others offered solutions such as creating separate restrooms. And other parents are suggesting homeschooling as an option for their children.

“Boys just don't belong in the girls’ restroom,” Robbie Heather Darce said. “This opens too many doors for trouble.”

“I sat and talked to my kids about it since they are in school,” Darlene Adams Berryhill said. “They are eighth-graders. I think it is ridiculous the government has any say so about how kids ‘feel’ in the restroom.

“In my opinion, it should be up to the school districts individually. The safety and health of the students should be first and foremost. However, my kids, both boy and girl, feel it should be up to them as students to decide.”

And some parents would consider homeschooling options.

“I will homeschool my children if this is allowed,” Ethan Miller said. “I do not think little girls should see little boys’ private parts. And I don’t think little boys should see little girls’ private parts. I believe it will cause more rapes.

“It will cause more young pregnancies. The kids have rights too! And by allowing this, you are violating kids. If you want this to be fair, then you need a boy’s bathroom, a girl’s bathroom and then a transgender bathroom.

“Plain and simple. This should most definitely NOT be allowed!”

“If this becomes allowed in St. Mary parish, my child will be pulled out and homeschooled,” Kelsey Butts said. “And my youngest will not go to public school at all, he will start and remain homeschooled.”

“Schools are not a place to be bringing this nonsense! If anything at all, create a “neutral” bathroom for those Trans students, and only those students, to use. The end.”

After stating a difference between transgender and gay, one parent suggests watching a television show to understand the term transgender.

“There’s a difference between transgender and gay,” Toby Vercher said. “Don’t you think your sons and daughters are already sharing bathrooms with gay children? They may not even know it so why have a problem with transgender. …

“ If you want a better understanding of transgender watch the show Jazz on MTV.”

Another parent says shedding light on the matter creates bigger problems for transgender students wanting to fit in. She also mentioned solutions were made in the past by school administrations without involving the public about similar matters.

“Do we really think this is helping them “fit in” or “feel normal”? Melissa Dudoussat said in an email. “The trouble they will now deal with from fellow students far outweighs the sign on the restroom door.

“No one noticed and it wasn't anyone's business. By bringing it to light, they have taken away what transgender students fight for, the ability to fit in and be what we see as normal.”

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