Local school districts respond to feds on transgender guidance
By Trudy Balcom
RAWLINS — Call it a bathroom brawl.
Carbon County School District No. 1 Superintendent Fletcher Turcato issued an email statement to all district employees Wednesday concerning the federal government’s recently released guidelines concerning transgender students.
“At this time, CCSD #1 will not create/draft a policy for use of transgender bathrooms, locker rooms, etc., or place signage on bathrooms that could put our students at risk,” the opening statement of the email read.
He also shared a similar message on a community Facebook page.
The email message was drafted in response to the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice’s joint policy guidance statement issued May 13 that directed schools to allow transgender students to use restrooms and locker rooms that correspond with a student’s stated gender identity, rather than their biological gender.
Schools that do not allow students to use the restroom of their gender identity, or who provide separate facilities for transgender students risk violating the federal regulation known as Title IX, the DOJ warned.
Title IX prohibits “sex discrimination in educational programs or activities operated by recipients of Federal assistance,” the guidance letter stated.
Title IX was enacted in 1972 primarily to eliminate discrimination against girls and women in education. Title IX applies to all public K-12 schools as well as publicly funded colleges and universities.
The May 13 federal guidance also stated that the protection against sex discrimination offered by Title IX extends to transgender students: “This prohibition encompasses discrimination based on a student’s gender identity, including discrimination based on a student’s transgender status” the guidance letter states.
“No Supreme Court and no state court has ruled on this,” Turcato said in telephone comments to the Daily Times Wednesday. He also said that the district would continue to consult its attorney, John Kuker, about the issue.
“My phone has been ringing off the hook, I’ve been getting texts, people are concerned about this,” Turcato said.
Turcato also said that the School Board of Trustees had discussed the issue, although it has not appeared on any recent meeting agendas.
Turcato said that the district has not yet dealt with any complaints or concerns from transgender students.
Jim Copeland, Superintendent of Carbon County School District No. 2, said he received the federal guidance letter late last week, but he has not discussed the issue with his board at this point.
However, he said he did not a see any point in developing a policy at this time.
“We’re not going to develop a policy at this time. I don’t feel there is a need to develop a policy based on something that might happen in the future,” Copeland said Wednesday.
The guidance letter stated that when a student or a student’s parents or guardian notifies a school administrator that a student asserts a different gender identity from what has been recorded on previous school records, “the school will begin treating the student consistent with that student’s gender identity.”
Although Turcato’s email said the school district did not plan to draft a policy on transgender students, it alluded that a transgender student would be asked to use a faculty restroom or the nurse’s restroom.
“…(W)e will always make reasonable accommodations for students as to using the nurse’s restroom and or faculty restrooms if need be,” the email stated.
However, the federal guidance stated that providing separate bathroom facilities for transgender students does not meet the criteria for Title IX guidelines.
“A school may not require transgender students to use facilities inconsistent with their gender identity or to use individual user facilities when other students are not required to do so,” the guidance stated in a section dealing with restrooms and locker rooms.
Turcato framed the issue as a local concern, calling the federal guidance “a knee-jerk political directive” in his email.
“I realize Albany County School District No. 1 in Laramie has instituted a policy, but we are not Laramie,” the email stated.
Turcato’s comments echoed those of State Superintendent of Education Jillian Balow, who issued a statement the same day the federal guidelines were released.
"Guidance on ensuring the civil rights of transgender students was released by the USDOE and USDOJ today which underscores the challenges of adapting to social change in schools,” Balow said in her statement. “I don't believe it is appropriate for federal bureaucrats to tell our education professionals how to handle these sensitive situations.”
It is not clear if federal funding might be jeopardized for school districts that decline to act on the federal guidance.
A call to Balow to discuss that possibility was not returned.