A proclamation targeting transgender students and Colorado’s public accommodations and non-discrimination laws, approved by the board of Monument Academy drew criticism from parents, students, and staff members of the district during a Board of Education meeting yesterday.
Monument Academy is a public charter school in Lewis-Palmer School District 38, which is near Colorado Springs.
The proclamation states that “the Board believes that the current Colorado legislation referred to as S.B. 08-200 and H.B. 21-1108, jeopardizes the innocence, wellbeing, privacy and safety of our students” and that “the Board believes that the use of sex-specific common bathroom and the use of a sex-specific common locker room by the individual who is of the biological sex is protected by the right to privacy from an individual who ‘expresses’ or ‘identifies’ as a non-biological gender under Amendment IV of the Constitution of the United States of America.”
The document goes on to proclaim, “The Board firmly believes that any laws passed by the United States Congress and Colorado General Assembly that mandate specific instruction or that direct [Monument Academy] to follow specific instructions regarding non biological ‘gender expression’ and/or ‘gender identity’ in determining the use of biological sex specific common bathrooms, biological sex specific common locker rooms and participation in biological sex specific athletic sports; violate natural law, moral truth and expose our students to undue harm, confusion and dysphoria” and encourages parents to “make your voices heard as active and engaged citizens by contacting your elected representatives at the state and national level asking them to take a stand for the privacy and protection of our students.”
The issue of trans people accessing facilities that are consistent with their gender identity has not just been addressed in Colorado statute, but has also been challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court. The Grimm v. Gloucester County School Board case affirmed the right of transgender students to use facilities consistent with their gender identity, citing Title IX protections and the precedent set by the Bostock v. Clayton County case, which found discrimination of gay and transgender employees a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
In Colorado, discrimination against trans students has been found unlawful in the 2013 case of Coy Mathis, a 6 year old trans girl who successfully sued Fountain Fort Carson School District 8 after she was denied access to the appropriate bathroom.
Concerns over Monument Academy proclamation come after the previous D38 Board of Education meeting saw parents criticize Lewis-Palmer Middle School’s No Place For Hate club. They saw the Anti-Defamation League’s curriculum as “indoctrination” of students.
“I imagine most, if not all of you on the board are parents,” said Megan Pemberton, a D38 parent. “Many of you may have LGBTQ kids, and like me, you want what’s best for your kids. The Trevor Project estimates that one LGBTQ youth, between the ages of 13 to 24, attempts suicide every 45 seconds in the United States. This risk drops by 40% when youth have one affirming adult in their lives. Who are the affirming adults with our kids eight hours every day? How are they able to identify themselves? Because without them our childrens’ survival is at risk. A few weeks ago my second child came home from school absolutely beside themselves. You see this child is gender fluid, has short hair and dress to support however they’re feeling that day. Another young person at the middle school approached them and told them they should be ashamed of being queer, and they should just go ahead and kill themselves. I was shocked. In my naivete I truly believed we were teaching our children to do better, to be better. I sadly do not believe my childrens’ experiences are unique. I believe if you ask any of the young people sitting behind me tonight or any of the kids at our schools that identify as LGBTQ, they will share that they too have experienced much of the same hate, anger and vitriol as my children, many on a daily basis.”
Jessie Pocock, the executive director of Inside Out Youth Services, a Colorado Springs nonprofit that supports LGBTQ youth, said in a statement, “It is never appropriate to stigmatize and discriminate against any child. This proclamation from the school board of Monument Academy sets a dangerous tone of targeted discrimination against LGBTQIA2+ students. By proposing policy to actively deny students’ legal protections, the Board’s behavior shows an overall disregard for the health, education, and safety of those it has the distinct honor and responsibility of educating. We are so disappointed by the efforts that seek to dehumanize our youth. Our Safe at Schools Coalition continues to uphold its commitment to ensure that all students in the Pikes Peak region have access to equitable education in a safe and affirming environment.”
For Inside Out, the Monument Academy proclamation is the latest example of intolerant behavior from school officials.
On Feb. 22, Inside Out issued an open letter calling out not just Monument Academy, but also Colorado Springs School District 11 Board of Education members Al Loma and Jason Jorgenson for what they characterized as “transphobic” social media posts.
A student-led protest is planned for the Feb. 23 D11 Board of Education meeting.
“I think, at a minimum, the Lewis-Palmer School District should demand that the proclamation be rescinded and that if it’s not then Lewis-Palmer School District should initiate action to revoke Monument Academy’s charter,” said Steve Waldmann, a D38 parent. “Hate and intolerance have no place within our community.”
In a Feb. 21 email to the Colorado Times Recorder, D38 Director of Communication, Mark Belcher, said, “D38 leadership is aware of the recent proclamation passed by the Monument Academy Board of Directors. At this time, D38 leadership has not had any conversation related to this proclamation. This recent proclamation is not presently an agenda item, and we do not anticipate it will be added to the agenda. D38 will be evaluating the proclamation, and at an appropriate time in the future, we will update our community following that evaluation.”
Charter schools, while they are public schools operating within a school district, have a degree of autonomy that regular public schools do not, and are able to enforce specific rules and policies, like uniforms and curricula, that public schools do not. Monument Academy is run by its own six-member board.
In an emailed statement, Ryan Graham, the board president, said, “The issues and challenges that Monument Academy face are not unique to any school in this state. The cultural wars have landed squarely at our doorstep and as the President of this Board, my expectation is that we as a school stand firm and unwavering in our ability and capacity to protect the privacy and well being of each and every one of our students.
The motivation behind the proclamation is to clearly state our position regarding S.B. 08-200 and H.B. 21-1108. The Board firmly believes in protecting the innocence, well-being, privacy, and safety of all our students. Under current law, every school in this state is being forced to mandate specific instruction for individuals that express or identify as a gender that does not correlate with their biological sex; regarding bathroom use, locker room use and athletics. These laws expose our students to undue harm, confusion, and dysphoria.
We are aware of the Coy Mathis vs Fountain Fort Carson School District decision in 2013. That does not negate the fact that we as a Board have a duty to protect the privacy of our students by imploring legislative changes. As you are aware, a proclamation is making a declaration and it does not violate the law to do so. As stated in the proclamation, we appeal to our parents and constituents to make their voices heard in letting their legislators know that they need to take a stand for the privacy and protection of all students.
My eyes are open to truth, and I am not blind to the consequences of stating this position, but I will stand to protect all our kids.”
While Monument Academy’s proclamation is concerning for LGBTQ advocates, Mark Silverstein, the ACLU of Colorado’s legal director, says the proclamation itself is protected by the first amendment.
“We are ready to step in to defend the rights of trans people,” Silverstein said. “We support the Colorado statute. We support the clarifications made in recent legislation, and when we have heard of violations we’ve either written a letter or been prepared to litigate. At the moment, to the extent that the Academy is merely declaring the Academy’s position about the statutes, the Academy certainly has a First Amendment right and a Colorado constitutional right to register its stand as opposed to the legislation. It’s when the Academy begins to actually violate the statute in ways that it suggests it might, but hasn’t actually said it would do that, there could be grounds for legal action.”