Regulatory policy

Greenwich BOE breaking the law with Title IX policy

Republican members of the Greenwich Board of Education recently blocked passage of a Title IX policy for students, citing a desire to retain flexibility to discriminate against transgender athletes and potentially ban trans athletes from competing on teams. female athletes.

According to outside counsel testimony at the January 20 BOE meeting (timestamp 2:03:29), federal and state laws require the board to adopt and disseminate the Title IX policy protecting students and staff. against sexual discrimination and sexual harassment, as well as an outline of claims reporting procedures and staff training. The US Department of Education clarified in 2021 that Title IX specifically includes protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, thus schools are not permitted to exclude transgender athletes from teams.

The BOE passed a policy covering workplace discrimination and harassment (for staff), but the proposed Title IX policy for students failed by a 4-4 vote along party lines, Republicans having chosen to leave students without codified protections. The dissident council members acknowledged their understanding of the existing law and openly chose non-compliance. According to statements by an outside attorney, not having a policy would be legally problematic, leaving the district open to potential action by the U.S. Department of Education, Connecticut State Board of Education, Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) , individual complainants and even the Department of Justice.

When the Title IX policy item was brought up for discussion, Vice President Karen Kowalski said, “I have no problem with not sex discrimination. Her objection, as she described citing her experience as a woman who played sports and also had daughters, was that “biological and transitional male” students were allowed to play on women’s sports teams. “I’m not going to put up with it. I don’t care if it’s Connecticut law,” she said with audible emotion in her voice. She suggested that others are probably also offended but aren’t bold enough to speak out. She then asked if the proposed Title IX policy could be amended to allow for case-by-case discrimination based on gender identity, but such a policy would not comply with current law. Ironically, Kowalski claims to protect girls as she blocks the implementation of policies and procedures that would educate students about their rights and resources to seek redress.

New board members Cody Kittle and Michael-Joseph Mercanti-Anthony probed what could happen if the BOE refuses to approve a policy, with Kittle suggesting that failing to approve the policy would not suddenly make legal sexual harassment. He argued that the board could reevaluate later if the lack of policy was starting to “cost lawyers too much”. Who could foot the bill for these lawyers?

Board member Joe Kelly added that he understands it’s the law but can’t agree with it, citing his sporting background, three daughters and having a woman who is an athlete and “passionate about it”. He noted that he believes he is a voice for underrepresented people, but he doesn’t think it’s safe or fair (to have transgender athletes on women’s teams). After hearing outside attorneys repeatedly tell the board that they had to comply with federal and state law, Kelly said he was confused he was not an attorney and that he didn’t want to get in trouble, hinting at visions of a ‘perp walk’. Kelly then voted against the Title IX student policy.

Board members in support of the policy focused on the need to protect the majority of students, comply with state and federal laws, as well as avoid legal exposure. Members argued that sexual harassment and gender discrimination are frequent occurrences, while transgender athletes wanting to compete on a sports team is an infrequent scenario. Board member Christina Downey said the superintendent told their committee that students, their lawyers, and their parents had previously inquired about the district’s harassment and discrimination policy.

Counsel pointed out that the board acts as an entity when adopting policies and that policies do not necessarily reflect the values ​​or beliefs of individual board members. Additionally, the board has the ability to change its policy if relevant laws should change in the future. Asked about other school districts, the attorney replied that she was not aware of any other district in Connecticut that had not adopted a policy consistent with current Title IX regulations.

This vote sends a message that Republican members of the BOE are willing to flout federal and state laws in deference to their personal biases and feelings, that they think codifying protections for students is not that important and that discrimination of transgender students might be acceptable. despite clear federal and state protections. If this council is not willing to be guided by what is best for our students, it should at least be guided by the law.

Jennifer Barro is a resident of Greenwich.