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Information is scarce about parents opposed to City Schools of Decatur’s transgender policy

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Information is scarce about parents opposed to City Schools of Decatur’s transgender policy

Vernadette Broyles, a lawyer from Georgia Adoption and Family Law Practice out of Norcross, speaks to the City Schools of Decatur Board regarding their policies on transgender students. Photo by Gabriel Owens
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Vernadette Broyles, a lawyer from Georgia Adoption and Family Law Practice out of Norcross, speaks to the City Schools of Decatur Board regarding their policy on transgender students. Photo by Gabriel Owens

This story has been updated. 

Decatur Schools’ policy on transgender students has been in place for at least 10 years, but parents opposed to it say changes to the policy have occurred without their consent or input.

The policy says students will not be discriminated against because of a student’s race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, or age. There have been no reports of the policy causing problems at any of Decatur’s schools.

But two parents and an attorney claiming to be part of a “parents coalition” raised concerns about the policy during a September School Board meeting. The speakers pointed to a July 2016 memo written by Superintendent David Dude outlining his response to guidance issued by the Obama administration about transgender students. That guidance was reversed by the Trump administration. A petition against the policy says Dude’s 2016 directive was given without sufficient public input.

In his 2016 memo, Dude told staff that he expects students to be addressed using their preferred gender identity and that students should be allowed access to facilities – like restrooms – and activities based on their preferred gender identity. There have been no reports of any problems stemming from City Schools of Decatur staff following the guidance in Dude’s memo.

In a blog post about the 2016 memo, Dude said nothing has changed.

“The Board policy … was in place prior to the guidance issued last year and remains in place today,” he wrote. “In fact, that Board policy has included protections for transgender students for at least 10 years.”

The petition says the policy has changed and cites an Atlanta Journal Constitution article which quoted Dude as saying that transgender students “mostly” use the faculty or referee restrooms. The article was published a couple of weeks before Dude’s 2016 memo was sent to CSD staff.

There may be more parents involved in the effort to change the transgender policy than the two who spoke at the September board meeting, but it’s not clear how many or who the parents are. The petition against CSD’s transgender policy has more than 100 signatures, but there’s no information about who created it and not all of the signers are public. The petition’s creator is listed as Concerned Parents CSD, but attempts to locate that group or its members have been unsuccessful.

The public signatures provide no information about whether the signers are parents of CSD students. Many of the signers say they are located in other cities or in some cases other countries.

It’s also not clear why Vernadette Broyles, an attorney based in Norcross, has become involved in the matter. Broyles appeared at the September School Board meeting along with parents Mark and Gena Major. When Superintendent Dude asked during the meeting if she was representing the Majors, she declined to answer.

Broyles also declined to answer questions posed by Decaturish, including whether she or the Majors are behind the petition.

“Thank you for your inquiries,” she said. “At this time I will defer to engage in conversation on these matters to a later date.”

There will be a special work session to discuss the policy before the School Board’s regular meeting on Oct. 10. The work session will start at 6:30 p.m. and will be held at 125 Electric Avenue, Decatur, GA 30030. All meetings are open to the public.

Decaturish has learned about a meeting of the school system’s “Equal Opportunity Task Force” that occurred in May of this year. The task force was asked to review the school system’s policy and see if any changes needed to be made. That meeting, which occurred May 24, was attended by more than a dozen people, including the Majors and Broyles, the attorney. It’s unclear whether the other attendees of the meeting have anything to do with the “parents coalition” or the petition.

Erin Swenson, a transgender woman, licensed psychotherapist and Presbyterian minister, was invited to participate in the meetings and act as a resource.

After the May 24 meeting, Swenson made a Facebook post which was forwarded to Decaturish. In the post, she said, “I was prepared for a couple of people to object. I was not prepared for the entire group to demand that the superintendent withdraw the policy.”

“Many of the comments advised that since we are talking about less than 1 percent of the population that the disruption caused by the policy was unnecessary,” Swenson wrote. “I pointed out that transgender children and teens is our communities fastest growing demographic.”

When asked about the meeting this week, Swenson said things “got heated a couple of times.”

“We did an exercise where we sat in small groups around tables and there was butcher paper on the tables and we were all given markers to write down our questions or ideas or anything we felt was important,” she said. “I responded negatively to some things people were saying because it seemed they were coming from a place of ignorance, which is probably not a very good word to use, but it’s probably true.”

Swenson said that she has since concluded some of the people who were there weren’t interested in educating themselves about the topic.

“What they know about the transgender experience is a kind of a knee-jerk personal reaction to caricatures of transgender people, drag queens and such, and they have an extreme lack of knowledge about what transgender really is,” she said. “There’s a pervasive sense that transgender people are sick, maladjusted or sexually perverted. It’s almost disgusting to even say. There are people who believe that and they’ve not troubled themselves to get to know anyone who is transgender.”

The notes from that meeting were summarized and obtained via an open records request.

Equal Opportunities Task Force Community Conversation (1)

The petition says CSD’s policy undermines diversity rather than promoting it.

“Being one of the most diverse student populations in the state, CSD should lead the way in both accommodating gender nonconforming students while also fully protecting the privacy rights of all our students, including our diverse ethnic and religious groups,” the petition says. “The school board cannot move forward with a regulation that undermines one of our best assets, our diversity. Until a regulation is acceptable to all these groups, it would be irresponsible to move forward with implementation of a severely flawed transgender policy.”

The petition asks for “strict sex segregation” in athletics.

“We petition for transparency and parental input going forward to ensure these student rights are protected,” the petition says. “It is the duty of the CSD School Board to protect the privacy, safety, and dignity of all students.”

Swenson said she isn’t sure why the policy would be coming under fire now, but said it may have to do with President Trump’s efforts to undo policies established by the Obama administration.

“I think what’s happening now is the current administration is making a concerted effort to undo those things and it’s probably stirred up a bunch of people who didn’t remember that they were unhappy,” Swenson said.

Read more: This is Swenson’s Facebook post written shortly after the May 24 meeting. 

Last evening, I had an awakening. Not a pleasant one. It was like the morning of November 9 when I awoke to realize the world had been turned on its head. Only worse.

Several months ago a local school district invited me to join a task force charged with the job of putting flesh on a new inclusion statement that had added gender identity to the list of categories for inclusion. The task force was gracious, even inviting me to take up a whole meeting to train them on the subject of transgender and gender nonconformity (TGNC). Last night was a planned community meeting to gather feedback on the new policy that would guide the task force in its work. I was prepared for a couple of people to object, I was not prepared for the entire group to demand that the superintendent withdraw the policy.

That was the general position of the community contributors to the meeting, but it wasn’t the most disappointing part of the evening. We were asked to meet in small groups and discuss three main questions, writing our responses and thoughts on butcher paper that covered the table. This completed, we were then invited to a “gallery walk” to read the notes others had made. We were also given green and orange stickers so we could indicate agreement or disagreement.

I used only one of my green (agreement) stickers, and almost used up the sheet of orange ones.  My disappointment grew from the level of misunderstanding that was being accepted as truth. Many of the comments advised that since we are talking about less than 1% of the population that the disruption caused by the policy was unnecessary. I pointed out that transgender children and teens is our communities fastest growing demographic. They asked how I knew, and I told them about being with many at the THEA+ Family Symposium last Saturday. Silence.

I am thankful that there were no comments written about TGNC people being mentally ill or delusional. There was however, a clear preference for viewing gender as strictly binary (“chromosomes decide it all”). My assertions that sex and gender have proven to not be binary (examples: androgen insensitivity and 5-alpha reductase deficiency) were met with more silence and shaking heads.

I am also thankful that the nature of this meeting probably called out the people in the school district who were passionately opposed to TGNC experience entering the arena of public education. This community has a reputation for being progressive, diverse, and inclusive so I know that there are many others who think differently. Nice to know, but they didn’t show up. Next time a community meeting is called to discuss the inclusion of TGNC students, faculty and staff for the district, I need to make sure that the trans and trans-supportive part of the community is invited.

There is much work ahead, and the going may be pretty hard.

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