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Jefferson County Board of Education delays decision on compliance with anti-transgender Kentucky law

Liz Schlemmer
/
LPM
The Jefferson County Board of Education has not yet taken action regarding SB 150.

The school board is weighing two options: one that complies with Senate Bill 150 and one that does not. At a meeting Tuesday, members tabled the issue for now.

If you’re looking for transgender peer support, you can reach the Transgender Wellness Coalition online at transwellnesscoalition.org. You can also contact the Trevor Project, which provides free, confidential counselors who specialize in helping LGBTQ+ youth.

The Kentucky Legislature passed Senate Bill 150 in March. It imposes a set of rules on public schools across the state that are widely expected to harm transgender and nonbinary students.

At Tuesday’s Jefferson County Board of Education meeting, middle school teacher Greg Tichenor asked board members to protect trans students.

“My students and I grow best together when we collaborate with each other’s differences and learn how to draw upon each other’s strength through collaboration,” he said. “Diversity is not a weakness. Instead it is one of JCPS’s greatest strengths.”

SB 150 directs school districts – including Jefferson County Public Schools – to establish policies that prevent trans students from using certain bathrooms and restrict class discussions of gender and sexuality. It also says districts should not bar their staff from misgendering students.

JCPS’ school board is deciding between two policy proposals: one that primarily complies with SB 150’s rules on bathroom use and misgendering kids, and another that ignores them.

Both policy options use a typo in SB 150 as a loophole that some school officials say allows them to either ban classroom discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation, or end sex education in grades five and below.

Board members tied in a failed vote to approve the version that would defy SB 150’s rules.

Members James Craig, Chris Kolb and Sarah McIntosh voted for the policy. Members Linda Duncan, Diane Porter and Corrie Shull voted against it. Member Joe Marshall was not present.

Craig said he thinks SB 150 is vulnerable to a legal challenge under federal civil rights protections.

McIntosh said it’s clear SB 150 is intended “to further marginalize an already vulnerable group.”

“There is no question that this is a horrendous bill,” she said. “It shouldn’t have come to a point where our local boards of education are even having to wrestle with civil rights issues.”

Porter, who voted against adopting the defiant policy at Tuesday’s meeting, also criticized the state Legislature’s recent actions.

“And I cannot say enough times that this board is here for children. This is public education,” she said. “We want our children treated with love and respect.”

The school board unanimously agreed to table the discussion, but they’re likely to reconsider it soon. A staff member advised the board that they face an Aug. 15 legal deadline to comply with SB 150.

School boards across the state have been grappling with the same dilemma JCPS is. The Fayette County Board of Education recently voted to comply with SB 150.

Around two dozen people spoke out against SB 150 at the Board of Education meeting Tuesday night.

Nine-year-old Finley Spalding asked the board to defy the law.

“We will show the state that trans kids and families are welcome at our schools,” he said. “I trust my parents to take care of me. I think JCPS and the government should do the same.”

One of Finley’s moms is trans. If JCPS complies with SB 150, he said he’s worried about how SB 150 will affect his family.

“I am also worried about other kids,” he said. “What if they have to go into a bathroom that makes them feel uncomfortable and unsafe?”

Other people who offered their perspective to the board Tuesday night included the parents of trans and nonbinary children, as well as community members with no kids in JCPS schools who still felt it was important to speak up.

Standing before a microphone, they questioned why the state government is making safe spaces for trans kids unsafe – in this case, their schools.

Anice Chenault – whose nonbinary child Justice also spoke at Tuesday’s meeting – talked about how the Republican-led Legislature’s decision to pass SB 150 affected her as a parent.

“Your most important job is to keep your kid safe. Yesterday you knew that you could send your kid to school with the protection of the law behind them,” she said. “And now tomorrow you have to keep sending your kid to school, but with no law to back you up. And no law to back up teachers that want to do the right thing to help your child. Not only no law to protect you, but the fact is that the law is now set up to disrespect and harm your kid.

“We know there will be legal battles no matter what you do. Use this opportunity to tell Frankfort what we all know: that SB 150 is hateful and violent and harmful to our kids. Please stand on the right side of history.”

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

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Morgan is LPM's health reporter. Email Morgan at mwatkins@lpm.org.