Student Privacy Paramount in School Board Civil Rights Discussion

Student Privacy Paramount in School Board Civil Rights Discussion

Susan Eggebraten (left) posed the question about Title IX while SCSD No. 1 attorney Kari Moneyhun explained the district policy in regard to students' civil rights.

ROCK SPRINGS —A complicated discussion about the level of students’ civil rights with regard to their sexual orientation dominated a good portion of the Sweetwater County School District No. 1 board meeting last night.

The conversation began during the public comment period when retired teacher Susan Eggebraten asked the board how it plans to handle recent changes implemented by the Department of Education, specifically regarding Title IX.

“Are teachers going to be required to address students by their preferred pronouns?” Eggebraten asked the board. “Are males going to be allowed to use female bathrooms? Are males going to be participating in female sports?”

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Proposed changes to Title IX are currently in draft form, but SCSD No. 1 attorney Kari Moneyhun said it’s likely that these changes will be adopted. She emphasized that Title IX is a federal law and “district policy has always adhered to the law as it has been written.”

Moneyhun summarized the district’s position by saying that a student’s right to privacy supersedes their parents’ right to know about their choices regarding sexual orientation.

She cited a 2020 Supreme Court landmark ruling in the case of Bostock vs. Clayton County in which the Court held that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees against discrimination if they are gay or transgender.

Title IX essentially abides by the same standards except that it applies specifically to schools covering staff as well as students, Moneyhun said.

“We know that under Title VII and Title IX sex-based discrimination covers sexual harassment,” she added. “That’s where a lot of the focus has been recently because we have the new Title IX regulations from two years ago that we’re rapidly implementing.”

Moneyhun said “mis-gendering” a person falls under the definition of sexual harassment. That’s when a person who chooses a transgender lifestyle is not addressed by the proper pronoun.

We have our general policy which is the nondiscrimination policy, and that essentially parrots the Civil Rights Act.

~ SCSD No. 1 Attorney Kari Moneyhun

Cases have been filed in several states but nothing has come before the United States Supreme Court with regard to sexual harassment of students under Title IX, Moneyhun continued. No cases have been filed in either Wyoming or the 10th Circuit. Wyoming is also part of that jurisdiction.

With very little case law to reference, the situation is not “black and white” as Moneyhun explained. On one side there are the rights of a transgender student or staff member and on the other side there are teachers’ and parents’ rights.

Superintendent Kelly McGovern said the District will handle each situation on a case-by-case basis, but also said students’ and staff privacy will remain the highest priority. She said the District will not violate any student’s privacy about their choice of sexual orientation by informing their parents of that choice.

At no time do we want to put our teachers in a difficult situation. But it’s important that we do adhere to the law and provide a safe and secure environment that is conducive to learning for each and every student.

~ SCSD No. 1 Superintendent Kelly McGovern

The parent of a student who is considering a gender change told the Board that it has caused distress at home. The parent said his student has been confrontational with siblings and has been generally confused since making the decision.

The parent asked if the District could provide some sort of counseling for students who are considering a transgender lifestyle to deal with “the constant battle” internally for them. The parent also asked whether the district would be willing to pay for outside counseling for students since their parents are often left in the dark because of privacy laws.

Board chairwoman Carol Jelaco when a student’s needs assessment is made a school counselor could become available.

“I am suggesting working with the students and trying to help them realize that parents can be of support to them if they knew,” Jelaco said. “That is the preferred way to go.”