Public addresses Highland Board of Education over district transgender issue

By Gena Wiley - The Sentinel

The June school board meeting at Highland seemed routine as the agenda went quickly by.

Superintendent Dr. Bill Dodds spoke of improvement on Highland’s gifted program, while Nate Huffman, high school principal, reported the highest graduation rate ever and on and on to the public participation, which appeared to have more participants than normal.

Several concerned parents and grandparents addressed the board in response to the recent, “Dear Colleague,” letter guiding institutions who receive federal funds on transgendered issues. Passionate pleas were sparked by reports of the previous board meeting where a concerned Highland parent, Emily LeVan, stated that she was fighting for equal rights for her child who identifies as transgendered.

Local Pastor and concerned parent, Greg Rice asked, “What is being mandated to the school and what is being done?”

School Board President Loren Altizer stated, “We cannot disclose legal matters in a public setting. This board has a distinct duty to protect the dignity and rights of all students.”

This give credence to the speculation that this issue has proceed to the legal level as Ms. LeVan stated that she was working with legal entities such as the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

In addition, as the last agenda item was passed before executive session, the board “Resolved to enter into a contract with Alliance Defending Freedom for legal representation and to represent the Board and the interests of all students at Highland Local Schools regarding the U.S. Dept. of Education’s Office for Civil Rights Complaint #15-14-1076 and all related matters” as it appears on the Board Agenda. The Alliance Defending Freedom Fund’s website states:

“Alliance Defending Freedom was created by a group of visionary Christian leaders with a mission to reverse the growing threat to religious freedom. The great work of our founders continues through our allies and attorneys worldwide.”

In response to the concerns shared by community members, the Board handed out copies of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s letter addressed to the U.S. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch and the U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. concerning this issue, dated May 27, 2016:

“As Chief law officer of the State of Ohio, I write to advise you that this judgement of the “Dear Colleagues” letter is wrong, both in its elitist disregard for our 21st Century communities and as a matter of law. The letter says that a school’s “desire to accommodate others’ discomfort cannot justify a policy” other than that required by the letter’s “guidance”-but in fact, our State and our communities are much better equipped on these matters than even the most well intentioned federal “Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General” or “Assistant Secretary” to advance the important dignity and privacy interest of every student—of all students—at school in our State.

The “Dear Colleague” letter reports, with emphasis, that “ED and DOJ (the Departments) have determined that this letter is significant guidance. “Significant it may be, but it is not law…”

The letter from the OAG ends with this statement:

“If your Departments act against our State contrary to law, I will defend vigorously the interests of the State of Ohio. Again, the federal government does not need and is not empowered to make every decision for every social institution on our county…”

The meeting ended with various Board members thanking the community for sharing their concerns.

By Gena Wiley

The Sentinel