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Kentucky’s second-largest school district bows to anti-LGBTQ+ law

The exterior of the Fayette County Board of Education building.
Fayette County Board of Education
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Public Domain
The decision means Kentucky’s second-largest school district now bars transgender students from bathrooms and locker rooms that match their gender.

The Fayette County Board of Education voted Monday to comply with new restrictions on trans students and classroom speech.

Members of the Fayette County Board of Education voted unanimously Monday night to bring district policy in line with new state restrictions that limit classroom speech about gender and sexuality and bathroom access for transgender students.

The decision means Kentucky’s second-largest school district now bars transgender students from bathrooms and locker rooms that match their gender. The board also banned sex education in grades 5 and below, another requirement under the new state law.

Fayette County Public Schools teacher and parent Lauren Sherrow was among several speakers who acknowledged the board’s “precarious position” during public comment. Senate Bill 150, passed by the Republican-led Legislature earlier this year, requires all Kentucky school districts to create new anti-trans bathroom policies and speech restrictions on gender and sexuality.

The same law also bans transgender children from accessing gender-affirming medical care, provisions which are the subject of achallenge in federal court by the ACLU of Kentucky.

“I know that the Kentucky state Legislature has limited your ability to keep students safe,” said Sherrow, the mother of a trans child. She was one of many who said if the board is forced to comply, the district should create single-stall gender-neutral bathrooms, which are explicitly allowed under SB 150.

Shavahn Loux, another parent of a transgender child in FCPS, said though the bathroom provision “has the potential to be a bad thing,” the district has “the potential to make it a good thing” by investing in more gender-neutral bathrooms.

“We have the opportunity to make sure that those students have access to restrooms which are close to their classrooms,” Loux said, adding that her child has trouble getting to a gender-neutral bathroom under current conditions.

“I know when my son first came out he became dehydrated. He didn't want to drink water. He got migraines, he had UTIs, he had all sorts of different health issues. And this is before it was illegal for him to use the restroom of his choosing,” Loux said.

Parents, teachers and activists called on the board to commit to building gender-neutral bathrooms, locker rooms and changing areas in all FCPS high schools by 2026, all middle schools by 2028 and all elementary schools by 2030.

Rebecca Blankenship, a trans activist and school board member of Berea Independent School District, said FCPS’ board is likely to face litigation, whether it complies with Senate Bill 150 or not.

“Consider that no matter what option you take tonight, you will end up likely being sued,” Blankenship said, noting the district could be sued in state court for not enforcing Senate Bill 150, or in federal court for violating the civil rights of LGTBQ+ students if they do comply.

The federal appeals courts are split on whether school districts can ban transgender students from accessing bathrooms that match their gender. The Fourth and Seventh Circuit Courts have ruled that such policies violate protections against gender discrimination, while the Eleventh Circuit Court upheld a Florida anti-trans bathroom law in 2022.

Fayette County Board of Education members did not comment on the specific request to build more gender-neutral bathrooms during the meeting.

However, just before the vote, board chair Tyler Murphy said he wanted “every student, and staff member and family member of Fayette County Public Schools listening tonight to know that they have a Board of Education team and a superintendent that sees them, that hears them that values them, and respects them and will continue to do so each and every step of the way.”

The board adopted many parts of a model policy from the Kentucky School Boards Association, which KSBA created in response to SB 150 and all other school-related measures passed during the last legislative session.

The board took advantage of a perceived “loophole” lawmakers accidently included in their restrictions on classroom speech on gender and sexuality.

The Kentucky Department of Education issued guidance earlier this month advising districts that SB 150 allowed them to choose between banning sex education in grades 5 and below “or” banning from all grade levels any lesson or presentation “that has a goal or purpose of students studying or exploring gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation.”

Lawmakers who supported the measure, including its sponsor Republican Sen. Max Wise of Campbellsville, said they meant for districts to follow both provisions. Wise called KDE’s interpretation an “absurd” effort to skirt the law, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader.

The Fayette County Board of Education approved policy changes that follow KDE’s guidance and remove sex education from grades 5 and below while leaving out the overall ban on speech around gender identity and sexual orientation.

“We fully anticipate that at a future time action will be taken so that the ‘or’ will become a ‘nor,’” Murphy said. Leaving out the overall ban on gender-identity-related speech for now, Murphy said, “will allow our staff time” to plan for how to manage situations when topics around gender identity and sexual orientation arise in the classroom.

The board moved ahead with the policy over the objections of Kay Burns, a parent who wanted both restrictions implemented.

“I believe both are discussions and topics to be addressed and taught by parents rather than teachers in a school setting,” Burns told the board during public comment.

Some other school districts have put off revising their policies to align with SB 150. The board of Covington Independent School District voted earlier this month to table bathroom restrictions and speech limitations on gender and sexuality, according to LINKNky.

The directive to limit classroom speech went into effect immediately upon passage, but lawmakers did not give districts a deadline to create their bathroom policies.

The Jefferson County Board of Education, the state’s largest school district, is holding a policy meeting to discuss the speech and bathroom restrictions on July 10.

Parents, students and activists in Louisville have called on JCPS not to comply with the anti-LGBTQ+ provisions.

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

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