Ohio State Board of Education considering several proposals regarding new federal LGBTQ policy
Conservative members of the Ohio State Board of Education have offered different proposals to counter a pending federal rule that would require schools to follow LGBTQ anti-discrimination policies in order to receive funding for things like school lunch programs.
Some of the resolutions would support the state's lawsuit against the rules and support pending bills in the legislature that ban transgender athletes from participating in girl's sports.
However, LGBTQ advocates, teachers’ unions, and food bank leaders have called on the state school board to not move these proposals forward.
Federal rule change and Ohio’s lawsuit
President Joe Biden issued an executive order in January 2021 stating that sexual orientation and gender identity are protected classes that are shielded from discrimination in a variety of federal laws, including Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.
In May 2022, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service announced rule changes to follow Biden’s executive order. The change would mean state and local agencies that receive FNS funding must investigate allegations of discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.
The USDA added that, “Those organizations must also update their non-discrimination policies and signage to include prohibitions against discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.”
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, a Republican, joined a lawsuit with 21 other states to prevent these rules from going into place.
In the meantime, Ohio Republican lawmakers have sponsored bills that would bar transgender athletes from playing on a girls sports team and from using the team locker rooms.
Conservatives believe, if the anti-discrimination policy goes unchallenged and is allowed to remain, schools in Ohio will lose their ability to make local decisions and the state bills being considered could put schools at risk of losing federal funding for school lunch programs.
State school board resolutions
Some members of the Ohio State Board of Education back that legislation, including Brendan Shea. He is sponsoring a controversial resolution in support of Yost's lawsuit and the legislative bills under consideration.
In addition, his proposal would require the state superintendent to write to Ohio school district leaders, and tell them that the board opposes the federal anti-discrimination policy and does not believe those provisions are in effect.
After hundreds of Ohioans began weighing in on the original resolution, another board member, Mike Toal, presented an amendment that makes some changes but leaves the thrust of the resolution intact.
At a full school board meeting in early October, members agreed to refer the issue to its executive committee for further consideration.
On Monday, that executive committee met and yet another amendment was introduced by Charlotte McGuire, board president.
It urged the Ohio General Assembly "to oppose and take appropriate policy action" to the proposed regulatory changes. It focuses on the issue of parental rights by stating its aim is "to protect and uphold student and parental rights, as well as local control of schools and districts."
McGuire said the board's number one goal is to make sure every child in Ohio, regardless of where they live, their race or any other factor, gets a good education.
She said when she's talked with teachers, they have told her the board should be focused on making sure educational opportunities are afforded to all children.
"I'm going to tell you what some Black teachers told me. They say, 'you talk about all of this social transition and our kids can't even read.' That's what they were saying to me. They had me almost in tears," McGuire said.
McGuire characterized her amendment as a unity proposal.
"The title of what I would think would be a coalescing, a unifying resolution would be 'To advance academic excellence in K-12 education in safe school environments free from social identity policies that may infringe upon the unalienable rights of parents, students, educators and district administrators,’" McGuire said.
But her proposal, which was introduced halfway through the meeting, was anything but unifying with some of the members of the executive committee and the board members who were not part of the committee but were invited to take part in the discussion.
Shea called McGuire's last-minute proposal "very disturbing."
"It does seem like an attempt to not take a position and just go right down the middle on an issue that I don't see how you can do that," Shea said.
Diana Fessler, board member, said she wanted to formally object to the proposal McGuire put forward and to the way she did it.
Opponents of the original resolution
Many people have already voiced their opposition to resolutions that would object to the anti-discrimination policy.
Several groups have said the push against the LGBTQ protections “demonizes” a population of students that are already discriminated against.
Transgender students also appeared before the state school board to share their stories.
That included Conner McLaren, who told the board she and other trans students continue to endure bullying.
"I'm not a divisive concept. I'm a teenage girl who wants to graduate from high school, go to college, get a job and live my life. Please don't make things harder for the community I am here to represent. Don't let our school become one more bully we have to deal with," McLaren said.
Where the issue could go from here
At the Oct. 12 meeting with the full school board, many members who backed Shea's resolution or the Toal amendment argued against moving the issue to the executive committee.
They said it could stall in that committee. They added that many members of the board who wanted to weigh in on the resolution wouldn't have an opportunity to do so if it isn't brought back out of committee and up for a vote by the full school board by the end of this year.
Supporters of the Shea resolution said this issue needs to be addressed now and cannot wait.
Toal took issue with the committee having to wait until Nov. 14 to take up the issue again.
"I can stay here all night to get something that we can bring to the board," Toal said.
But McGuire said she had promised staff members that the meeting would conclude at 4 p.m. because some of them wanted to get home to be with their families for Trick-or-Treat night.
The executive committee will continue the discussion at its next meeting, the morning of Nov. 14. The full board plans to meet that afternoon and on Nov. 15.