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Students, parents, activists urge JCPS not to comply with anti-trans law

A large group of protestors hold up colorful signs that support trans rights and decry Senate Bill 150, which became law out of the 2023 legislative session.
Jess Clark
/
LPM
Protesters demanded the Jefferson County Board of Education refuse to comply with new state restrictions on transgender kids.

Protesters demanded the Jefferson County Board of Education refuse to comply with new state restrictions on transgender kids.

More than 100 people rallied before a Jefferson County Board of Education meeting Tuesday night, calling on the board “not to comply” with a new state law that targets the rights of LGBTQ+ students in schools.

Speaking before a crowd, Goldsmith Lane Elementary School third-grader Justice Chenault, who uses they/them pronouns, called Senate Bill 150 “bullying by the state.”

“JCPS needs to stand up to the bullies in Frankfort and say they will not comply with this hateful rule,” they said.

Senate Bill 150 requires local school boards to create policies that ban transgender students from using restrooms and locker rooms that match their gender. It also prohibits schools from forcing staff to use trans and nonbinary students’ correct pronouns.

“I want my teachers to respect my pronouns and let me be who I really am,” Chenault said.

The same law outlaws gender-affirming medical care for children. The ACLU of Kentucky is seeking to block the ban on care in state court.

Seventeen-year-old Janelle Pitmon, a student at the J. Graham Brown School, also spoke against the law. Pitmon, who is lesbian, said she worried about provisions that encourage teachers not to withhold information about students from parents. The law also prohibits schools from providing any lessons that explore gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation, provisions lifted from a Florida law critics refer to as a “don’t say gay” measure.

“We are people,” Pitmon said. “We have our own independent development, we have our own independent experiences, and we deserve to have that environment to explore ourselves without the scrutiny of our parents.”

“This bill has done nothing but steal safe space from our students, and I refuse to tolerate it,” she said.

The Kentucky Department of Education guidance document on implementing SB 150 contains few instructions, except to restate the language of the bill and warn school boards that the policies it requires them to create may violate federal education and civil rights laws.

Doss High School teacher Sara Butryn said she personally would refuse to comply with any such policy.

“SB 150 tells me to bully my students, deny them dignity, to deny the right to be who they are on their own terms. So we will not comply!” she said.

Butryn was among several teachers who later attended the Jefferson County Board of Education meeting and urged members to pass a resolution stating the district would not follow the new law.

“This is a simple decision,” Barret Traditional Middle School teacher Virginia McKay Nelson said. “It feels like the only decision being weighed is the political one. The lives of our trans youth are not political. They exist. They are real, and they are in pain.”

Another JCPS teacher, Matilda Ertz from the Youth Performing Arts School at duPont Manual, said the board should not only refuse to comply, but should also issue “real guidance and support” for how staff should navigate students’ needs in the wake of Senate Bill 150.

“Teachers have been asking for district guidance since SB 150’s passage, and we still wait,” Ertz said. “This is unacceptable, and it instills further fear that the district will not protect us or our rights to academic freedom.”

Ertz said without guidance from the district, many teachers are self-censoring and canceling LGBTQ+ student support groups.

JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio said he agreed with many of the concerns people voiced, but that the district is in a “tough spot.”

“This is a law that has been passed, which makes it very challenging,” he said.

Pollio highlighted issues already raised by the Kentucky Department of Education—that the law potentially conflicts with Title IX and recent federal court decisions.

He said JCPS is waiting on more guidance from the Kentucky School Boards Association, as well as the decision of pending court cases. JCPS attorney Kevin Brown would not specify which ones.

Asked whether JCPS was prepared not to comply with SB 150, Pollio said it’s “not a simple answer,” since refusing to follow the law could put teachers’ licensure at risk.

“We have to make sure we protect our students, but our job and role is to make sure that we have policies and procedures that protect all of our employees as well,” he said.

The law did not create a deadline by which school boards must create their new bathroom and locker room policies. But Pollio said the district will “have to have some kind of policy and guidance implemented prior to the start of school.”

Correction: This story has been updated with the correct spelling of Matilda Ertz's name.

Support for this story was provided in part by the Jewish Heritage Fund.

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Jess Clark is LPMs Education and Learning Reporter. Email Jess at jclark@lpm.org.