The Fannin county school board held a special called meeting on Friday morning, January 20th 2017.
The purpose was to decide on a new Superintendent for the Fannin County School system.
The Board emerged from executive session and voted to appoint Dr. Michael Gwatney who is currently Director of Technology & Media Services.
Current Superintendent Mark Henson congratulated Mr. Gwaltney,
Congratulations to Dr. Michael Gwatney who was appointed as Superintendent of Fannin County Schools effective July 1, 2017 this morning by the board. Dr. Gwatney will do an excellent job for our system. As your outgoing superintendent I know how important it will be for Dr. Gwatney to have the support of all of our employees and stakeholders so it will make this transition much smoother with that in place. My wish is for the best for the Fannin County School System and together you can all make that happen. Once again, congratulations to Dr. Gwatney!
On June 1st, FetchYourNews contacted Fannin County School System Superintendent Mark Henson to ask about the school systems’ resolution on the transgender bathroom issue. The questions come after the Fannin County Board of Education sent a letter home to parents. In it, Mr. Henson states, “In accordance with this guidance and with us receiving state support [political support], Fannin County will maintain restrooms and locker rooms for the 2016-2017 school year which are based on birth sex rather than gender identity. Alternate restrooms will be provided for any transgender students we may have enrolled.” (to view letter see “Superintendent Henson’s Letter to Fannin County Parents Regarding Transgender Bathrooms”)
Mr. Henson said that several actions by state officials created a passable solution for the transgender bathroom debate. First, Georgia’s School Superintendent Richard Woods publically stated, “I do not believe a student of another gender should use a restroom or locker alongside students of the opposite sex.” Next, on May 25th, Georgia, along with 13 other states, sued the federal government over the federal guidelines that directed school to allow transgender students to use bathrooms and locker facilities that match their gender identities. The basis of the multi-state lawsuit is that the Executive Branch of the United States government exceeded its constitutional power when it said that schools receiving federal funds must provide noon-discriminatory bathroom and locker room accommodations for transgender students. The actions of both Gov. Deal in approving the lawsuit and State Superintendent Richard Woods’ stating his opinion allow Fannin County School System to uphold the values of Fannin County said Mr. Henson. He continued saying that the system will still proceed cautiously in its further actions regarding transgender bathrooms said Mr. Henson. (see article “Fannin Board of Education Issues Bathroom Policy as Georgia Joins 11-State Lawsuit Over Transgender Bathrooms”)
Fannin School’s statement on transgender bathrooms mirrors that of the Gwinnett County School System. Gwinnett County Schools is the largest school system in the state and is frequently a determining opinion in state education policy. According to Fox5 Atlanta, Gwinnett county will provide sex-designated bathrooms and facilities and offer gender-neutral facilities, as well, in the 2016-2017 school year. Fannin’s statement also mirrors the feeling of other School Superintendent’s in the north-east Georgia Regional Education Service Agency, a multi-county government agency which provides policy and continuing education support for school systems.
Also, Georgia’s joining the multi-state uphold the belief that local school systems should be under local control. Mr. Henson said that it was very obvious through the Board of Education meeting and parents’ comments how a large part of Fannin’s population feels about transgender bathrooms. Then, he thanked the School Board for creating a space for Fannin residents to voice their opinion before the School Board. The School Board extended the Public Comments section of its May 12th meeting so that anyone who wanted to speak could be heard even though the School Board’s by-laws only allow for 30 minutes of Public Comment. On May 12th, the Public Comments section lasted for 2 ½ hours. Also, the School Board moved its meeting from Board of Education’s meeting room, which seats about 30 people, to the high school cafeteria which seats hundreds. The School Board also set up live-streaming of the May 12th Board of Education meeting to students in the Fannin County High School gymnasium. Mr. Henson said he appreciated the School Board’s deeply thought-out deliberations over transgender bathrooms and is glad the Board took action as a group not action according to individuals’ personal agendas.
FetchYourNews also asked about the financial consequences if the school system comes up opposite of federal government civil right’s laws and United States Department of Education’s support for transgender bathrooms. As of yet, the federal government has not taken away federal funding for any type of schools due to a school system or public university’s bathroom policy. If the federal government makes a decision that puts Fannin School System in violation of law, the school system would lose $1.5 million per year in federal funding. This would require the school system to increase property tax millage rate to pay for loss of funds. $1.5 million represents approximately 1 millage point of property taxes. Another fine that the school system could be required to pay is up to $75,000 per day for civil rights violations. This cost, like the $1.5 million in lost federal funding, would become the responsibility of Fannin residents to pay for through increased property taxes.
According to Mr. Henson, a more thorny problem is with the United States’ Office of Civil Rights. If the Office of Civil Rights believes there is a violation, then it opens up an investigation into all aspects of the school system. “It can come in and make life miserable with tying up time and resources of staff who must provide reports and evidence to investigators.” Mr. Henson knows school systems where the Office of Civil Rights has come in for one violation and stayed for years on end to investigate all aspects of a school system.
FetchYourNews also asked about supposed blueprints for bathroom renovations that were to take place during the summer. Mr. Henson said that the school renovations which will take place during the are renovations to Fannin County High School’s science classrooms. The School Board voted for it during a meeting in winter. There are no blueprints showing bathroom remodeling said Mr. Henson.
Finally, Mr. Henson said that an unfortunate by-product of the debate of transgender bathrooms is how the debate took students’, staff’s and parents’ attention away from crucial end-of-school year tasks for students and staff. For students’, essential study time and instruction time were filled with rumor-mill chatter about transgender bathrooms. Central Office staff had to field phone calls when they needed to review students’ records in time for graduation and make sure that the schools were properly shutting down for summer. Teachers were persistently distracted by rumors and accusations floating throughout the Fannin community instead of having time in last few weeks of school to ensure that students have been fairly evaluated through the entire year and to prepare students for end-of-course exams. s, architect, science classrooms, board approved in winter.
Correction: A May 20th article, “Fannin Board of Education Issues Bathroom Policy as Georgia Joins 11-State Lawsuit Over Transgender Bathrooms”, describes May 25th’s letter home to parents as the Fannin County School System bathroom policy. Mr. Henson says that the letter is not a policy but a statement about how the school system will provide privacy for all students. Also, the Board of Education has never issued a policy about bathrooms. The use of “statement about transgender bathrooms” in this article reflects the correction.
The decision about transgender bathrooms in Fannin County schools has been taken out of the hands of the Fannin County School Board. On May 25, Georgia, along with 10 other states sued the federal government over the federal guidelines that directed school to allow transgender students to use bathrooms and locker facilities that match their gender identities. The other 10 states in the lawsuit are from all over the county: Texas, Alabama, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Tennessee, Arizona, Maine, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Utah. On Friday, Kentucky joined the lawsuit. North Dakota’s Attorney General said he would like North Dakota to join the lawsuit and probably more states will follow. The federal departments that are defendants in the lawsuit are the Department of Education, Department of Justice, United States Equal Opportunity Commission and the Department of Labor.
The original eleven states say that they are bringing the lawsuit against the federal government because:
“Defendants [the federal government agencies] have conspired to turn workplaces and educational settings across the county into laboratories for a massive social experiment, flouting the democratic process, and running roughshod over commonsense policies protecting children and basic privacy rights… Absent action in Congress, the States, or local communities, defendants cannot foist these radical changes on the nation.” (click here to read the lawsuit)
Georgia and the other states filed the lawsuit in response to the May 13, US Department of Justice and the Department of Education’s “Dear Colleague” letter sent to schools across the nation. The letter’s purpose is to provide information and examples about how school districts across the nation provide bathrooms and locker room facilities for transgender students. The letter also states that the federal government will evaluate other schools’ transgender policies and actions using the example school districts as a guideline. (click here to read the “Dear Colleague Letter”)
Along with the letter, the federal government sent a 18-page description of programs different schools and school districts throughout the United States have in place to accommodate transgender students. The description covers 20 local and state school districts. (read guidance programs described in the Department of Education’s “Examples of Policies and Emerging Practices for Supporting Transgender Students”)
On May 25th ,the same day Georgia joined the 11-state lawsuit against the US Government, Fannin County Board of Education sent a letter to Fannin County parents. (read Mr. Henson’s letter here) The letter begins with quoting Georgia Department of Education’s belief the federal governments’ actions regarding accommodations for transgender students are an overreach of the Executive Branch of the Federal government. It goes on to quote Georgia’s Superintendent of School Richard Woods, who says, “I do not believe a student of another gender should use a restroom or locker alongside students of the opposite sex.”
Towards the end of the letter, Fannin Schools Superintendent Mark Henson states, “Fannin County will maintain restrooms and locker rooms for the 2016-2017 school year which are based on birth sex rather than gender identity. Alternate restrooms will be provided for any transgender students we may have enrolled next year.” Mr. Henson affirms that all current board members and staff support the Board of Education’s decision. Mr. Henson ends his comments about transgender bathrooms saying, “At the same time, we will continue to support ALL students in our system and protect each student’s personal right to a free, safe public education and the respect that each individual deserves at all times.”
Georgia started openly moving towards it opposition of the Federal government’s position regarding transgender bathrooms House Speaker David Ralston’s letter to Senator Isakson and Perdue on May 12th. Speaker Ralston wrote the letter on behalf of the citizens of Fannin County. In it Speaker Ralston says “the federal government is dictating to our locally-elected Board of Education with regards to the policies they enact in a way never seen before.” Coincidentally, May 12th , the day of Speaker Ralston’s letter, is also the day the Board of Education listened to 2 ½ hours of public opinion about transgender bathrooms. At the end of the public comments section, Fannin County Attorney Lynn Doss, stated the school system’s opinion that forcing transgender bathrooms is government overreach and encouraged people to speak to their elected officials. (watch Ms. Doss’ comments here) The School Board echoed Ms. Doss’ comments during their comments at the end of the meeting. School Board Member Terry Bramlett said the people at the meeting tonight should share the same level of passion with representatives in Washington. He encouraged everyone to write to state and national officials whose duty it is to make legislation about transgender bathrooms.
On May 17th, State Senator Steve Gooch told the Helen City Commission that we’ve asked the governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general to take a strong stand against the Federal government’s position on transgender bathrooms. That same day, Governor Nathan Deal issued a statement reading:
“Until Congress acts, I assure the citizens of Georgia that the offices of the governor, attorney general and state school superintendent will work cooperatively to protect the interests of Georgia’s children from this abuse of federal executive authority.”
Deal also asked Superintendent Woods to provide uniform state-wide guidance to Georgia schools in regards to accommodations for transgender students. May 20th, State School Superintendent Richard Woods sent a sort of “Dear Colleague” letter to Georgia Superintendents. In it, Mr. Woods uses the same language as Speaker Ralston’s letter. Mr. Woods says that the federal government’s guidance letter is an overreach of the Executive Branch of the federal government. The letter goes on to state Mr. Woods’ opinion about transgender bathrooms. He says, “I do not believe a student of another gender should use a restroom or locker room alongside students of the opposite sex.” The letter also promises that if the federal government brings a lawsuit against any school district, the state of Georgia will “take appropriate action.” (read Superintendent Woods’ letter here)
Later this week FetchYourNews will speak with Mr. Henson about how Georgia’s joining the 12 state lawsuit affects Fannin County School Systems’ potential financial liability in regards to accommodating transgender students.
Fannin County School Superintendent Mark Henson made it very clear that he will comply with providing transgender bathrooms in Fannin County schools. He said, “Folks we’re here for kids. We’re here to do the right thing. We’re here to obey the law. If we don’t obey the law there could be consequences… We’re looking after all 3000 of our children. We can’t lose our sight of this school system.”
The consequences which Mr. Henson is speaking about is $3.5 million of federal education monies which could be lost if the system stops complying with Title IX. Title IX, a civil rights amendment, prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in federally-funded education programs and activities. Title IX covers an incredibly wide range of potential areas of discrimination from amount and type of sports teams offered at schools to amount and types of bathrooms provided to students. Subsequent interpretations of the law show that “gender identity or failure to conform to stereotypical notion of masculinity or femininity” comes under the umbrella of sex discrimination. Title IX is not something that a school board can vote to agree or disagree with. Title IX is federal law.
School Board member Terry Bramlett told the board that he has always taught in his seminars, “You can seek to change the law, but you cannot not obey the law.”
Mr. Henson’s remarks at the end of the Fannin County Schools’ Board of Education workshop meeting were to inform the board and public that the school system will continue to comply with Title IX requirements and provide transgender bathrooms. Mr. Henson is making these remarks before anticipated protests at the formal Board of Education meeting on Thursday, May 10th. The anticipated protests are in response to Fannin County’s compliance with Title IX requirements about bathrooms for transgendered students. The protests are expected to take place during the public comments section of the meeting. The School Board will not be making any motions at the meeting in regards to voting for or against transgendered bathrooms. The bathrooms are already in the schools because the system is complying with federally-mandated Title IX regulations.
Mr. Henson thanked Board members for making his job easier because their hearts are in the right place. He added that he hopes this period of time does not disrupt the unity of the board and asked them to please bear with the process of standing up for the law. He said, “We do this job because we care about our kids.”
The Fannin County Sherriff’s department has begun preparing for an anticipated protest which will have groups opposing and supporting transgender student rights. There is a possibility that the School Board will move its meeting from the Board of Education office to a larger space at Fannin County High School to accommodate the anticipated crowd.
See related post: Transgender Bathrooms in Fannin County Schools
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