I recently read an article about a state’s fresh approach to public schools and parental rights and started laughing. My wife told me I should be outraged, not amused and said it just confirms my advanced age. And she’s doubtless right. My much younger relatives remind me repeatedly that I don’t get it. To which I silently think: “Thank God”.
The year is 2023 and in this American state, elected legislators and their governor have passed and signed laws threatening districts with a $10,000 fine if they do not enforce the following legal requirement: visitors, students, teachers, staff and trans must use school restrooms corresponding to their birth sex OR use a special one-stall facility. And there’s more.
- State law defines a person’s sex/gender by “…the external genitalia present at birth”.
- Parents must fill out a form that provides their child’s nickname or new name that doesn’t correspond to legal name, e.g. Rob is OK, but Roberta is not. However, in some counties, parents can give permission for their child to use Roberta instead of Rob.
- Teachers are not permitted to ask students what their preferred pronouns are. If one does,s/he can lose their teaching certificate.
- A new teacher in a county public school was told recently how to address a trans colleague: instead of using Mr. Ms or Mrs, use “teacher”
- Before these restrictive state laws were passed, county school districts had some discretion over how and what was taught.
- The state has now asserted superior authority over county districts sex ed and wants to review all curricula and materials.
- The state wants the sex ed message to be: “abstinence”
- The state’s guidance on sex ed is that students must be taught that “…the male and female reproductive roles are binary, stable and unchangeable”.
- Any member of the public can challenge any book in a school library. The bulk of those books are about LGBTQ experiences or structural racism. “Romeo and Juliet” was challenged and briefly removed, because Shakespeare’s implication was the two had sex
- State certified media specialists review books in classroom libraries for appropriateness. .
- One county requires parents to fill out a “Media Access Form”. The options for their children are: (1) Unrestricted, (2) Prevent access to (list) and (3) Access to Books: except those that have been challenged and reviewed (regardless of decision)
After laughing at what seemed to me the absurdity of an intrusive government layering on bizarre rules about bathrooms, gender and sex, I began to think about their impact on students. It became clear that essentially, these law/regs excluded opportunities for students to be challenged, even shocked and ask questions, discuss issues with peers, parents and teachers and learn. That’s what my friends and teammates did every day usually generating clashing conclusions and intense arguments that taught more lessons.
Tom Timberman is an Army vet, lawyer, former senior Foreign Service officer, adjunct professor at GWU, and economic development team leader or foreign government advisor in war zones. He is the author of four books, lectures locally and at US and European universities. He and his wife are 24 year residents of Kent County.