Caving to a coordinated effort by anti-trans groups and right-wing politicians — including current U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO), who is running for election in the district that includes Douglas County — to spread fear and misinformation about regulations that provide greater clarity around schools’ obligations under Title IX, the Douglas County School Board voted 4-3 this month to delay its planned discussion on an update to its nondiscrimination and sexual harassment policies.

With the clock ticking, districts across the state are under pressure to bring their policies into compliance with Title IX regulations by August 1. Additionally, they must comply with a 2023 Colorado law requiring districts to adopt a written policy that protects students experiencing harassment or discrimination, including those who are part of a protected class based on their gender expression or identity by July 1.

Boebert, who doesn’t live in the school district, and state Rep. Brandi Bradley (R-Littleton), along with leaders representing far-right organizations like FAIR and CPAN, posted calls on social media to bombard the school board meeting to “protect girls’ sports” and “keep biological males out of women’s bathrooms and locker rooms.”

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As a result, board members said they’d each received more than 100 emails regarding the policy changes, their constitutionality, and the potential for female students to face discrimination.

It was clear the conservative members of the school board majority bought into their party’s messaging. 

“I want to be explicitly clear: I continue to stand firm against racism and discrimination of any kind. However, I need to fully understand the impact these policy changes will have on our students involved in sports and those who utilize our locker rooms,” said board president Christy Williams as she motioned to remove the policy discussion from the evening’s agenda.

Board member Susan Meek argued that because they had received so many emails asking how the district has handled Title IX up to this point and for clarification about any proposed changes, they owed it to be transparent with the public on these issues.

“I think when we just pull items from the agenda because we’re getting a lot of emails, we don’t have transparency. We need to lean into transparency and understand how our district manages these issues,” Meek said.

Meek also called for an executive session with the district’s counsel to understand the legal implications of not meeting the state and federal deadlines. 

Board members Brad Geiger and Valerie Thompson agreed with Meek, saying they could at least discuss the proposed revisions without taking a vote. Geiger, Meek, and Thompson ran together for the school board as a slate in 2023, winning handily over their conservative opponents.

Williams and the three other conservative board members, Tim Moore, Becky Myers, and Kaylee Winegar, disagreed and used their majority to successfully postpone the issue to an undetermined future date.

Transgender sports participation was never on the table

Neither Colorado law nor the final Title IX regulations include rules governing athletic team eligibility criteria.

“The board was never set to discuss the participation of trans children in sports,” said Geiger in an interview. 

“That matter is covered by policies of the Colorado High School Activities Association, which, for more than five years, has mandated that children be allowed to participate in sports associated with their gender identity.

“It was simply a lie that allowing boys to play on girls’ sports teams was even on the table last night,” said Geiger.

Neither was the issue of bathroom use up for debate. Colorado passed a law in 2008 that forbids discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in public places, including schools.

Proposed changes marked on the redlined proposals in the board’s agenda prove the updates would’ve been minor had the board discussed them and that the district already had protections in place for students and employees based on gender expression and gender identity.

In fact, changes to Policy AC, Nondiscrimination/Equal Opportunity mainly included striking out the words below wherever they were in the text.

“The district prohibits discrimination of any student who seeks to participate in or benefit from the district’s facilities, programs, activities or services on the basis of race, color, national origin, ancestry, creed, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender expression, gender identity, disability, eligibility for special education services, or any other any status protected by law.”

The policy also defines a protected class as, “A ‘protected class’ and/or a ‘status protected’ under Colorado state law at C.R.S. § 22-1-143(1)(d)(I) includes ‘disability, race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, family composition, religion, age, national origin, or ancestry.’”

Public comments not based in fact

During 40 minutes of public comment, person after person, with the exception of a small minority, expressed opposition to changing the nondiscrimination policy over issues that weren’t up for debate and not based in fact.

Diana Gould, parent of a student in the district, said girls are being “sodomized, raped and brutally attacked” in school bathrooms.

“There have been multiple things that have happened in New York, in Oklahoma and then there’s this big event that happened in Loudoun County (Virginia) and the judge ruled against the teen that had brutally sodomized this girl,” said Gould.

In 2021 a female student in Loudoun County was sexually assaulted in her high school bathroom, but her attacker was male and didn’t identify as transgender. According to an NBC report, “After much discussion over whether the perpetrator was transgender or wore a skirt to get into the restroom where the first teen was attacked, the report found no evidence that the attacker identified as female or gender fluid. It found no evidence that he wore a skirt or kilt that day, and no witnesses reported seeing him in a girl’s bathroom or trying to get into one.”

It’s unclear what incidents Gould was referring to in New York and Oklahoma. Earlier this year, Oklahoma transgender student Nex Benedict died after they were assaulted in a school bathroom, drawing national attention. 

In New York, a viral video shows a student being dragged out of a bathroom and beaten by another female, but the school district hasn’t confirmed if the attacker is transgender.

Karen Pennington, grandmother to children in the district and state director for Concerned Women for America, an organization whose goal is to “impact the culture for Christ through education and public policy,” said, “Genders do not play sports, bodies do … this is a set up for injury for our female athletes. Additionally, females are victims of violence at much higher rates than males, and access to female-only spaces will only threaten their privacy and the potential for sexual exploitation.”

There is little evidence to back up Pennigton’s claims or that transgender youth are participating in youth sports at a high level. The Human Rights Campaign reports that “transgender youth are a small part of the overall population in schools, and only about half of trans youth identify as girls (opponents don’t seem as interested in trans boys, who they assume will not be able to compete with cisgender boys – a sexist assumption).”

Colorado Sen. Kevin Van Winkle (R-Castle Rock), currently running for Douglas County Commissioner, registered to give public comment but left before he could speak. Later that evening, he posted his agreement with the other speakers, reinforcing the unproven idea that girls would be in danger if transgender females were allowed to use their locker rooms.

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Yet, research shows that transgender teens are more likely to be sexually assaulted in schools that prevent them from using the bathroom or locker room consistent with their gender identity.

Controversy surrounding Title IX ruling

Title IX, which passed in 1972, banned discrimination on the basis of sex in public schools. According to the Associated Press, “The 1972 law doesn’t directly address the issue, but the new rules clarify that Title IX also forbids discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. LGBTQ+ students who face discrimination will be entitled to a response from their school under Title IX, and those failed by their schools can seek recourse from the federal government.”

The final rule sets a “de minimis harm” standard, meaning that any time a person is blocked from participating based on gender identity, it automatically causes more than de minimis harm (harm so minor it doesn’t warrant a response) and is illegal.

In recent years, many Republican-led states have enacted policies and legislation restricting the rights of transgender children. Twelve states have passed laws banning transgender people from using bathrooms and facilities consistent with their gender identity, including in K-12 schools and colleges.

At least 20 Republican-led states are suing the Biden administration over the expansion of anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ students. Earlier this month, federal judges in Louisiana and Kentucky granted a temporary injunction that blocks the Title IX ruling from going into effect on August 1. The decision covers 10 states.

Colorado is not one of these states and hasn’t joined any of the lawsuits asking a federal court to block the regulations from taking effect.

Schools that don’t abide by the Title IX regulations by the August 1 deadline could lose federal funding should an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights find they have discriminated against transgender students.

Martha Carver, a chapter captain of Grandparents 4 Kids, an organization advocating for a return to “fundamental academic-focused learning” asked the school board to reject federal money to avoid having to comply with Title IX altogether.

Her request appears to be part of a larger conservative strategy. In a secret recording obtained by the Colorado Times Recorder in May, Kelly Kohls, director of school board leadership for Moms for America, a group the Southern Poverty Law Center deems an anti-government extremist organization, told those on the call to encourage school boards to reject federal dollars.

“You show children sitting at a desk with a leaking roof or with their coats on because they’re so cold their school district can’t afford P.E. because Biden took the money that they’re supposed to heat their buildings with. We can play the propaganda machine, and we can beat them at this,” said Kohls.