ELKO – In a move many state leaders consider as the Obama administration forcing a liberal agenda concerning transgender rights, the Elko County School District plans to maintain the policies already in place, as they mostly comply to Friday’s directive.
“We already have policies in place that protect from harassment or discrimination regarding gender identity,” said Elko County School District Superintendent Jeff Zander.
“The only part of our policy that I believe does not comply is access to restrooms and locker rooms, from the standpoint, I think that the directive is probably a little more liberal than what our policies mandate,” he said.
Local school district policies state “restroom accessibility is going to be determined on a case-by-case basis and be balanced against the rights and desires of all students,” said Zander.
The recent guidelines from Washington require schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms corresponding to their gender identity.
There is a further stipulation a transgender student should not be required to use individual facilities, when the same is not required of other students, according to reports.
The district’s legal counsel interpreted the letter as a political statement and not law at this time.
Zander said it will be interesting to see how this plays out over the course of time — be that six months or a year.
The Elko County School Board faced this issue in September, when it denied a transgender student access to male bathrooms and locker rooms. The contentious meeting included statements from parents as well as local and state officials.
According to Free Press files, it was stated reasonable accommodations were made for the student and that there are not any legal stipulations for restroom use corresponding to gender identification.
Within the same month, the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada issued a statement saying it would investigate and potentially press charges regarding the above decision.
Zander said Tuesday the district has not heard anything from the ACLU since that time.
“Depending on what takes place with that, and depending on what takes place, I think, across the State of Nevada and nationally … probably will have some impact on what’s going to take place regarding our policies,” he said.
Some educators and administrators have stated the guidelines can serve as an aid in determining how to move forward and create best practices concerning transgender students.
During last year’s request, federal guidelines — released in 2015 by organizations such as the ACLU — titled “Schools in Transition” were reviewed and taken into consideration.
“That being said, our policy was not changed in regards to accommodating those requests on a case-by-case basis and we balanced the rights and desires of all students,” said Zander, explaining last September’s request was eye-opening in that it showed more schools facilitating accommodations, acceptable to those applying, than the central office was aware of.
“We have not rewritten the policy or adopted a policy that completely complies with the ‘Schools in Transition’ document, but I do think we have accommodations being made to support those students,” he said.
Oftentimes school boards set policy and a request would come from either a board member or legal counsel.
If this does come before the Elko County School Board, it will be put on the agenda and deliberated at a public meeting, said Zander, explaining there are no plans to do so at this time, unless he is contacted by board members, legal counsel or the insurance liability carrier.
The item would then be reviewed with the board president, who sets the agendas.
The federal letter provides guidance from the Education and Justice departments and, while it does not carry the power of law, there are implications of lawsuits or loss of federal aid, which would substantially impact the local district.
“If it would affect federal aid, we currently collect approximately $7 million a year in federal monies in all of our funds,” said Zander.
About $1 million is for resources in the general fund, while roughly the other $6 million is for special revenue funds: primarily including titles I, III and VII, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and food service.
Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt said President Obama has gone beyond his purview granted in the U.S. Constitution. Additionally, he said it denies state and local officials the right of self-governance and decides “what is best for their students and community.”
“By ignoring the balance of power between the federal, state and local governments, President Obama has usurped democratic participation from all necessary stakeholders,” Laxalt said. “This is especially troubling when he has done so by threatening to withhold funding to struggling Nevada schools unless they comply.”
Considering Elko is a rural school district in Northeastern Nevada, which appreciates its “local control,” Zander concluded by saying he thinks “the president’s directive, in some ways, diminishes that.”