A day after the Egg Harbor Township school board voted down a transgender-student policy, a group of Democratic state legislators has asked the state education commissioner to develop and enforce a state directive to protect transgender students.
The letter was sent Wednesday to acting Education Commissioner Kimberly Harrington by 13 legislators, including Senate President Stephen Sweeney, Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto and Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg. It cites President Donald Trump's rescinding last week of Obama administration guidance and says transgender students will now face physical and emotional harm within schools.
"The federal government has claimed this is a states' rights issue," the letter states. "Although we disagree, we ask that you issue a state directive immediately."
State DOE spokesman David Saenz said Wednesday evening they had not yet received the letter. But he said, state education regulations already include equal access for transgender students. He said Harrington is continuing the approach that local school boards should address gender identity through policy and that conversations need to happen on the local level so districts can craft their policies with community input.
The Egg Harbor Township school board's policy was actively opposed by a local church. The board initially approved a proposal in November but rejected a revised policy Tuesday night in a 5-4 vote following a lengthy public hearing.
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The revised policy would have allowed the district to address issues of athletics, bathroom and locker use on a case-by-case basis. It said: “The school district will take reasonable measures to accommodate the needs of transgender students in accordance with federal and state laws and regulations.”
The policy had been removed from the meeting agenda, but after two hours of emotional testimony from some of the almost 200 people at the meeting, a motion was made by board member John "Jack" Haines to vote on it.
Board President Louis Della Barca and members Chris Moran, Pete Castellano and Haines were the only members who supported it.
Della Barca had said earlier Tuesday he had tabled the policy because he knew it did not have enough votes to pass.
More than 30 people lined up to speak, with some chastising the board for tabling the policy, saying they had an obligation to at least vote.
Those in favor of the policy included the mother of a transgender teen, a teacher, Stockton University professor Laurie Greene, the Green Party of Atlantic County, Young Democrats of Atlantic County and the Rev. Blake Spencer of Ocean Heights Presbyterian Church.
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Spencer said the fact that some people might be uncomfortable with the policy was not enough reason to table it when the safety of other students was at risk.
Kevin Bernat, pastor of New Life Assembly of God Church, which has been the most vocally opposed to the proposed policy, said they want to come up with an alternate solution.
“Why can’t we work together?” he said to loud applause from supporters. “Let Egg Harbor Township pave the way to protect everyone.”
The New Jersey Family Council and Alliance Defending Freedom distributed a letter supporting the development of an alternate solution that would better protect the privacy of all students.
But Mico Lucide said he heard people refer to the policy as the “freakshow policy” and a “demonic onslaught” and that transgender students need the board’s protection.
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An attorney representing the Alliance Defending Freedom sent a letter to the district in January saying they are ready to litigate if necessary.
A transgender student case from Virginia regarding use of bathrooms is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.