A recent change designed to protect the privacy of North Carolina’s transgender public school students is drawing complaints from some conservative groups.
At the end of January, the state Department of Public Instruction updated the PowerSchool information system so that the sex for students is no longer visible unless schools give users permission to view the records. The change, which DPI says is based on federal guidance, is meant to protect transgender students from being outed if the gender they identify with is not the same as their biological gender.
“The update does not erase student sex information in the system,” Blair Rhoades, a DPI spokeswoman, said in an email. “The update instead allows for local decision makers to choose who can view that information.
“All states have been working towards following this federal guidance, as there has been ongoing litigation around Title IX, and the agency is obligated to comply with all federal laws addressing discrimination.”
Title IX is a civil rights law that prohibits gender-related discrimination in programs that receive federal funding.
But Education First Alliance is accusing Republican State Superintendent Catherine Truitt of “advancing the ‘Trans’ agenda.” The group cites the new change as well as one DPI made last year to PowerSchool to show the preferred name of students instead of just their legal names.
The group has taken positions such as advocating the removal of school face mask mandates and opposing what it calls the teaching of Critical Race Theory in schools.. It’s accused some Republican elected officials of not being conservative enough.
Education First Alliance charges that the PowerSchool changes “will allow children to choose their own names and sexes without the input or permission of parents.”
But Rhoades tweeted Tuesday that the assertion that DPI is allowing children to change genders without parental consent “is ludicrous & wholly inaccurate.”
Transgender students being outed
Craig White, supportive schools coordinator at the Asheville-based Campaign for Southern Equality, said at the start of the school year that the group received a rash of complaints about transgender students being outed at school. White said the problem was that everyone had PowerSchool access to the sex field for students.
White said that the group complained to DPI that both federal privacy rights and Title IX rights of transgender students were being violated. He said the group cited federal guidance the Biden Administration had given about discrimination based on gender identity.
In June 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Bostock v. Clayton County case that federal employment discrimination law applies to transgender people. Based on the court ruling, the Biden Administration issued federal guidance saying Title IX’s prohibition of sexual discrimination includes discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Based on the guidance, DPI sent an email on Jan. 23 to schools telling them an upcoming PowerSchool update would remove the student sex field from teachers’ screens.
A followup email on Jan. 26 told schools that the student sex field would be hidden in PowerSchool unless users had management access or were granted “view access” by their school.
“If a faculty member has a legitimate reason to see the sex of a student, they can,” White said in an interview Wednesday. “What they can’t do is receive it as a matter of course.”
‘Transgenderism in schools’
Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the N.C. Values Coalition, said she blames the Biden Administration and not Superintendent Truitt or DPI for the change. She accused the Biden Administration of engaging in federal overreach by reinterpreting Title IX to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
“This goes back to the Biden agenda to elevate transgenderism in schools and to use schools as laboratory for experiments instead of looking at what’s best for children,” Fitzgerald said in an interview Wednesday.
Fitzgerald said principals should turn on the PowerSchool function to allow teachers to see the sex of their students because educators need to know that information.
The change comes at a time when Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson has described teaching sexuality, including transgenderism and homosexuality, in schools as “filth.”
Robinson and other critics have called for removing some LGBTQ themed books from schools because they say they contain obscene and graphic depictions about sex.
White argues there’s a political war against LGBTQ students and faculty, especially transgender people.
“What we’re moving toward is an environment where students of color and LGBTQ students are not feeling safe and welcome in schools,” White said. “DPI is right that those students have the right to a quality public education.”
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