Let me set the record straight: School boards are nonpartisan bodies. Full stop.
School board members do not run for office as Democrats or Republicans. We specifically campaign and operate separate from political parties to ensure we work directly for the kids of the district, remaining independent of party planks and platforms. In fact, according to the Fremont County School District #1’s ethics policy, our obligation is to “[r]ender all decisions based on the available facts, independent judgment, and refusal to surrender that judgment to individuals or special interest groups.” Those special interest groups include partisan political parties.
At a recent school board meeting we voted, in a split decision, to remove several phrases from our anti-discrimination policy. While the board remained nonpartisan, that action was inherently political — it involved a politically elected board voting on public policy. During the meeting I attempted, apparently poorly, to draw the distinction between partisanship and the act of policy-setting. My words were quoted in this publication in a way that, while textually accurate, gave the impression that I had equated the two. As chairman of the trustees, the integrity of the district is of critical import to me, and thus I want to take this opportunity to assure your readers, and the district stakeholders of FCSD#1, that each of the trustees who sits on our board understands and takes seriously our role of independence from partisanship and special interests. We serve for the interests of the kids, not the parties.
I also feel it’s important for me to assure the students and staff of our district that nothing we did on May 17 removes or endangers the rights of anyone who attends school or works at FCSD#1. Every member of our educational community deserves respect and should feel safe to learn and thrive regardless of their personal qualities. The FCSD#1 Board of Trustees and all our administrators are in perfect alignment about this topic: Bullying is not tolerated at FCSD#1, no matter what flavor it takes.
The action taken at our recent board meeting modified our anti-discrimination policy to read: “Fremont County School District #1 does not discriminate on the basis of age, race, color, religion, national origin, sex, or disability.” In this statement we removed the separate clauses of sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, pregnancy and veteran status.
Those changes have been controversial and warrant some explanation. To set the stage, let me pose a few questions to your readers: Are members of the Catholic Church covered under the “religion” clause? How about atheists? Are Native Americans covered under the “race” clause? Are individuals with intellectual disabilities covered under the disability section?
Of course the answer to all is “yes,” yet you won’t find the words Catholic, atheist, Native American or intellectual disability mentioned in most anti-discrimination policies. People who belong to these groups are covered by law because they are all either definitionally, or through case law and Supreme Court rulings, part of broader protected classes. The actions taken by the FCSD#1 Board of Trustees simply applied this same logic to sexual orientation, gender identity, veteran status, marital status and pregnancy.
Bostock vs. Clayton County recently informed us that gender identity rights are part and parcel to sexual discrimination. Long-standing precedence tells us the same for sexual orientation, marital status and pregnancy; and veterans’ rights are clearly covered under other federal and state statutes. Because they are legally part of their respective protected classes, they need not be explicitly mentioned in statute nor policy for those protections to remain in place.
Put another way, the action taken by FCSD#1 merely cleaned up the language of our anti-discrimination policy while leaving all existing protections for members of those groups intact. In terms of politics and policy, FCSD#1 took our cue from other political bodies that have wrestled with this same topic. Specifically, the United States Department of Education’s website landing page on anti-discrimination does not include the groups that were excluded, nor does the State of Wyoming’s anti-discrimination statute or the Wyoming Department of Education’s anti-discrimination policy. As a board, FCSD#1 simply modified our policy to adopt the same, or extremely similar, language endorsed by those three national and statewide policy- and legislative-setting bodies.
Members of Congress and the Wyoming State Legislature are responsible for creating legislation. WyoFile readers help elect them to make decisions on topics like anti-discrimination. School board members are elected to focus on educational priorities. What FCSD#1 did on May 17 was nothing more than recognize that political separation: Let your senators and representatives focus on anti-discrimination laws, and allow the school board to get back to the critical role of educating our kids.