Flagler County School Board Chairman Trevor Tucker tonight may have been channeling Chief Justice John Roberts, whose votes have gradually shifted toward the center as colleagues on his right flank have edged further right: Tucker this evening, in an unexpected shift, switched votes to provide a 3-2 majority in favor of adding the words “gender identity” to the list of explicit protections in the school district’s anti-discrimination policy.
And in fact Roberts had more than a little to do with it: Tucker switched after reading the 6-3 Supreme Court decision in June that Roberts joined, finding that the 1964 Civil Rights Act’s prohibition against sex discrimination applies not just to women, but to lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender individuals.
“That was my biggest opinion, I read a lot of that opinion,” Tucker said this evening, explaining his vote in a brief interview. At the board meeting, he’d voted without elaborating. He didn’t see himself switching so much as following the law, he said tonight. “What was proposed really mirrors what I think the intent of the Supreme Court was,” he said of the wording to the district’s anti-discrimination policy. He’d also had conversations about the law with Kristy Gavin, the school board’s attorney.
The two words had for a year been at the center of a campaign by a relatively small group of parents and students, with support disproportionate to their numbers, to add them to the district’s protections. The campaign animated numerous school board meetings and pre-meetings with speeches, demonstrations, exhortations and at times displays of bile and insults, almost always from opponents of protections, that stained the board’s reputation and spurred new, stricter rules of decorum.
All along, a majority–Tucker, Janet McDonald, who was chairman until November, Maria Barbosa and Andy Dance–held the line against the change. Last April, freed of the pressures of in-person audiences, the board in tinny silos of a virtual meeting voted 4-1 to keep the two words out of policy. The 2020 election brought two new board members on, Cheryl Massaro and Jill Woolbright, Massaro defeating Barbosa and Woolbright taking the place of Andy Dance, who was elected to the County Commission. Massaro was for the change, Woolbright was not, which meant that a 3-2 vote against would prevail if the rest of the board held to type.
It didn’t. The Supreme Court had ruled in the seminal Bostock v. Clayton County case in the interim. It wasn’t clear whether proponents of the change would succeed in getting the school board to see the policy in that new light. But they pressed on, finding the opening in the Supreme Court’s decision.
“It’s been an amazing evening, I know my heart rate has been up and down and all over the place,” Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt said at the end of the meeting. It wasn’t clear if she was referring to the vote on gender discrimination–the meeting had also been punctuated with moving moments of silence and tributes to Tom Russell, the Flagler Palm Coast High School principal who died last week of Covid complications–though the vote couldn’t have left anyone’s ventricules idle.
Each of board members, with Tucker’s exception, had laid out her thinking on the policy, Woolbright speaking of the impossibility of singling out a group for protection without singling out all (“bring it on,” Vincent Lyon, the attorney who had run against Woolbright this year and who spoke of the policy to the board this evening, said to that notion). Massaro–who defined the issue as one of “human rights”–and Colleen Conklin urged their colleagues to see this evening’s proposal as an opportunity to put the issue behind once and for all, but on the right side of the law.
Randall Bertrand, whose transgender son’s unhappy experience with a teacher at Matanzas High School had really started the movement that blossomed into the campaign for transgender rights, today spoke as if from a year’s exhaustion in appearing so often before the board and elsewhere on behalf of his son and the greater issue at hand. “Today, you’re going to have the opportunity to vote on Policy 217 in a couple of ways,” he said: the required language, “and the language that I’ve asked for.” He then asked them to consider: “Is your vote meeting the dreams, needs, and abilities of every student? That’s all that I ask, is that you take a moment and reflect on that. I’m not here to tell you how to vote. I spent the last year sharing so much research. Now it’s your turn. So I ask you, just take that moment and think. Merry Christmas.” Bertrand has filed to run for school board in 2022.
Bertrand this time got a significant assist from Kyleigh Ruddy, one of two student representatives on the school board, representing Flagler Palm Coast High School. With notable exceptions, student representatives over the years have tended to keep their contributions in board meetings to happy bromides about their schools, though they’re invited to take part in every discussion. They just don’t have a vote.
Ruddy spoke like a full-fledged board member on Policy 217, implicitly making a point that Massaro–who’s always had her ears closer to students’ grounds than most other adults–had made: that the policy change troubles adults far more than it does those it is intend to protect: students.
Right now we are all living in a time of great uncertainty, and recently, especially for FPC, of grief,” Ruddy said, making an allusion to the death of FPC Principal Tom Russell last week, of Covid complications. “And the only thing that we can be certain of in these times is our dedication to our community and that is something that we can control. We can control how we treat other people. Up here I have 31 pages of 418 signatures of people who support the addition of gender identity to this policy. We say that we’re up here to protect students, yet there’s a group vocalizing their concern and handing over something in physical form that can be done to help a marginalized community feel safer in a time where everyone is dealing with the emotional toll of a global pandemic. The experiences that I’ve gotten from putting my boots on the ground and speaking to people, to real people that this affects, has shown me that there is no reason against this that isn’t riddled with logical fallacies and personal bias. I can say that anything that I really say right now or could say to anybody is truly going to change the mind of anybody who hasn’t made [it] up, but obviously I can say that I’ve met a lot of kind, beautiful and supporting people that would be benefitted by this policy, and I really hope that each and every one of you truly believes that and knows that 418 people have signed.”
One of those people who truly had changed his mind was sitting alongside Ruddy, and was the last word on the issue this evening. After the rest of the board had cast its votes for what was at that moment a 2-2 split, Tucker, ever the man of few but usually decisive words, said: “And the chair votes aye. It is 3-2, this 217 with the parentheses passes.”
The key wording of the policy:
The term “unlawful discrimination” encompasses any unlawful policy, practice, conduct, or other unlawful denial of rights, benefits, or privileges that is based on any legally protected status or classification under applicable federal, state, or local law including but not limited to race (including anti-Semitism), color, religion, sex (sexual orientation, gender identity), gender, age, marital status, pregnancy, disability, political or religious beliefs, national or ethnic origin, or genetic information.
Celia Pugliese says
Congratulations Mrs. Conklin! and thank you Ms. Massaro.
We are in a state of confusion. How many genders does science say there is?
Glad they finally got this debate resolved. They simply could’ve changed the wording to “human being”. It’s pretty sad when they have to explicitly list all the special interest groups, when any illegal discrimination(s) should encompass every human being regardless of any descriptors to identify & differentiate. That was the intent of the law(s) from inception. I thought it unnecessary to list out every single possibility, but apparently there are those that need it spelled out for them. By so rewriting the law(s) as a specific listing, there are those that will look for any & all exclusions in the listing as loop holes. “Human being” really leaves little doubt to discrimination(s) against anyone. As a category that is not specifically identified as listed, Felons/criminals are protected ?
This is unacceptable, perversion is perversion no matter how you look at it. I don’t care how many time s it put on the front burner or on Television each night. It should never be allowed! It’s plain wrong!
Says you. Until you have walked in the shoes of the many people who have dealt with gender issues since childhood, you have no right to criticize something for which you know NOTHING about! Obviously it is an important issue for some, or this would not have come up. For the school board to recognize that the U.S. Supreme Court has had to step in to issue their legal ruling that resulted in the school board’s change of heart, is a sign that even they acknowledge the law was on the students’ side regarding this matter.
This is truly disgusting, our child must be taught this is not acceptable behavior. And they should not rub it our faces on TV ever night
Trailer Bob says
People are who they are, we can all be who we are. I do believe that it is time to recognize and accept those who beat to a different drum, as long as we all continue to make our own choices and as long as it doesn’t have a negative effect on others lives.
Time to move on to some other issues around here that make everyone’s lives better.
As the saying goes, live an let live. The times they are a changin…
The communists declared …….” we will take over the world , without firing a shot , by taking over the hearts and minds of the next generation “, many years ago . Our society and its children have been bombarded by violent video games , pornography, degradation of the arts , perverted television , urban vile ghetto music and movie programs from “ holly weird “ that promote “ new age thinking “ from folks that hold Christian values …. as a detriment . ( Not surprising when one looks at who creates this trash ) . The family unit has been destroyed over the last 35-40 years through divorce, leaving many children to be raised in single parent home without a proper foundation and absolutely no discipline. And people wonder why we have drug addiction, confused mongrel children , murder , “ mamma and daddy babies “ , abortion , depression and those ill equipped to step into life… and be successful ,,,, on their own ? I’m certain that those who aren’t able to realize the outcome of this behavior currently…. certainly will , given enough time and free reign …. and it will be too late . Reading the Bible , constitution, saying the pledge of allegiance, or being patriotic….. will soon be seen as a perversion , I’m sure . But …….. remember….. the needs of the many , outweigh the needs of the few, and the many are being patient , quiet and tolerant …….. for now . Don’t count on it for much longer though . Life will go on , no doubt ….. but the quality of life in the future….. is up to the standard bearers …. of today . If you set the bar so low in life , that your children continuously trip over it …. one day they will eventually have a bad enough trip and fall …. that they kill themselves . I suppose letting your society crumble, is easier than working to keep it on point and upright . Good luck , many of you tide pod eaters will need it …. in the very near future . ( I’m no coward ; charly f smarjesse …. I’ll sign my name )
Trailer Bob says
I will take tolerance over hate any day. Until you have walked in others shoes…
Dennis C Rathsam says
Where were all these LGBT kids, when my wife & I went to school? Where were all these LGBT kids when our children went to school? Im just saying… What happened?
They were in the closet because they had no protections and when they were out, much like Matthew Shephard, they were at risk for being literally beaten to death.
Kelley Jones says
They were hiding from others, afraid of violence and unfounded hatred.
Many were recruited. Children who are born with attributes of both sexes have the right to choose what they want to be . Children born only one sex genetically should be helped to live with what they are and not confuse orientation with gender identity . But gender identity questions are being encouraged in today’s world . I believe many of these kids will suffer from regret for what the lgbtq community has encouraged.
NPA Marie says
Bravo. One small step for human rights, one giant leap for archaic-minded politicians. One reason I supported Ms. Massaro is because of her impressive resume displaying decades of “boots on the ground” interaction with youth and students. She understands the future of our youth and will advocate for them (of which Ms. Conklin has also done a fine job). That’s what a School Board member is supposed to do. Put the best interests of the children first, not personal politics. Thank you, Mr. Tucker, for having the intestinal fortitude and wisdom to read up on Justice Roberts and follow his lead.
Kudos to the Flagler County School Board for doing the right thing, especially since it wasn’t such a hard lift to align themselves with a legal ruling from the U. S. Supreme Court. And congratulations to student representative Kyleigh Ruddy for the impassioned argument in favor of the change as well as all of the other students who supported adding “gender identity” and signing their names in support of the addition. Students should be welcome in school and supported by teachers and other students regardless of their personal gender identity. They already have to deal with more than they should in their personal journey, and anything that the schools and the school board can do to make that journey a little easier for them while they learn is a very good thing.
Mike Cocchiola says
About time. Dedication, commitment and mostly persistence paid off. The Flagler County School Board finally did the right thing.
Been There says
Thank you, Mr. Tucker for taking the time to educate yourself instead of casting a vote based on an undeveloped opinion.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs places “security” as the second basic tier of human needs. Without being able to feel secure, our children will not be able to focus to fully leverage the gift of education set before them. How could they when they are absorbed by fear over something they can not help anymore than they can their ethnicity? The world is evolving and changing. We need to conscientiously do the same. If we don’t, we could be missing out on some real talent coming from the following generations.
I have been under the mistaken impression that the Constitution refers to us all.
I wouldn’t want to use a mixed gender bathroom – so I think all bathrooms should have signs stating “PENISES” and the other saying “VAGINAS” and be used according to what you have anatomically!
So do you not use a mixed gender bathroom at home or….?
“All through life there were distinctions – toilets for men, toilets for women; clothes for men, clothes for women – then, at the end, the graves are identical.”
― Leila Aboulela, Minaret
I am proud of the courage shown to make this change. Kudos, especially to Kyleigh Ruddy, your words have great impact, and you effect change.
Thank you Mr. Tucker for standing up, speaking up and recognizing the need for change. Thank you Ms. Conklin for never backing down and continuing to bring this issue up. Thank you Ms. Massaro for being on the right side of history. Anything we can do to make students safer is a move in the right direction and the job of this board.