Here We Go Again: Public Schools Become Battleground for Culture Wars over Transgender Bathrooms
I worked for 29 years as a public school Superintendent and since retiring have worked with several school boards in Vermont and New England. Serving on a school board is hard work in this day and age. Board members face new State policies that require them to set higher academic expectations, to expand their programs to cover Prekindergarten programs, to address the effects of poverty and addiction, and to prepare students for a workforce that demands soft skills and technological aptitude as well as the traditional skills. The last thing school boards need is more on their plate… and yet Governors and now the President of the United States keep adding to their burden, requiring them to fight over policies on transgender bathrooms.
In most instances an issue like this would have emerged from the bottom up. School boars would have addressed transgender bathroom use at the grassroots level and eventually an acceptable use policy would be developed via an organization like the National School Boards Association. It would have been a slow process, but eventually some kind of national consensus among school board members would emerge.
But instead of allowing this kind of incremental policy development to take place, some grandstanding legislators in North Carolina voted to unilaterally impose stringent guidelines on the use of bathrooms and the Governor signed the bill into law. The blowback has been enormous, with professional sports teams threatening to leave the state and national rock stars refusing to perform in concerts. Now the President has weighed in, issuing a NATIONAL edict on bathroom use… an edict that will usurp space on school board agendas across the country and create yet another firestorm of controversy about public education.
This isn’t the first time public education school boards have been forced to take on a cultural issue. Whenever a legislature passes a bill allowing teachers to carry guns, for example, it forces each and every school board to add that issue to their agenda. If bills allow for the teaching of creationism, or deny the mention of climate change, or offer guidance on the teaching of religion school boards become the focal point of the debate. And every time school boards take on a contentious cultural issue it makes it increasingly difficult to find people who want to spend evenings on the firing line serving as school board members. It also makes it increasingly difficult for school boards to find time to deal with educational issues— the ones that hopefully compel people to seek seats on School Boards.
The pushback against an ill conceived law should take place at the national level or at the legislative level in states. By issuing a national directive on the use of school bathrooms, the President has pushed this debate to the community level and placed thousands of school board members and school administrators on the hot seat.