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School Board Defers Updating Policy to Reflect State Transgender Ban

Paul Steinbach
Nashville

The Metro Nashville Board of Education recently declined to update the district's policy regarding student-athlete eligibility to align with a new state law limiting sports in which transgender athletes can participate.

As reported by the Nashville Tennessean, at least six board members met during a governance committee meeting earlier this month to review a variety of policy updates and later recommended that the entire board should vote to defer the policy, which has to do with who is allowed to play on which sports teams in Metro Nashville.

Currently, the districts policy promises equal athletic opportunities to students of both sexes and that "no person shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, be treated differently from another person, or otherwise be discriminated against in any athletic program of the school," according to the Tennessean.

This past spring, Tennessee lawmakers passed a state law requiring transgender students to compete in sports based on their sex at birth and banning them from participation in middle and high school sports under the sex with which they currently identify. The legislation contains no exceptions for students receiving puberty blockers or treatments altering testosterone levels, factors scientific studies associate with athletic performance, the Tennessean reported.

The Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA) oversees eligibility criteria for students participating in school sports. Criteria include age, residency and grade — in addition to new regulations regarding students' biological sex. Students found to not meet eligibility requirements can be disqualified or made to forfeit athletic events, which could potentially affect the entire team in some cases, according to the Tennessean.

Metro Nashville Public Schools' updated policy would have added that students participating in interscholastic athletics "must meet the eligibility requirements set forth by the state and the governing body of the sport" if it had been approved. Instead, with several board members expressing moral conflicts with the state law, board member Gini Pupo-Walker suggested the board defer the vote indefinitely.

"When I read this policy, I know that when we say 'eligibility requirements,' the reason for this is discrimination against trans students and I know when we say 'necessary documentation,' we are talking about asking children to provide documentation around their biological [sex]," said board member Emily Masters, as reported by the Tennessean. "And that is why I find it immoral, unethical, a violation of civil rights, and not at all in line with what I know about our district and how we choose to care for students."

"Being penalized for who you are, that's also unfair to the rest of the teammates who are just kids doing what they love with a talent and a skill," board member Freda Player-Peters said during the board's Nov. 16 governance committee meeting, as reported by the Tennessean. "I don’t want to punish kids for another student being who they are, and I don’t want to punish that kid for being who they are."

Abigail Tylor, another board member, summarized the board's decision to defer adopting a policy in compliance with the state law: "If we are deferring this, we are not affirming the state. We are saying that we feel so strongly about the state law that we want to see how this state law plays out in court."

A lawsuit challenging the new law was filed this month on behalf of Luc Esquivel, a 14-year-old freshman at Farragut High School in Knoxville, against Governor Bill Lee, Tennessee education commissioner Penny Schwinn, the State Board of Education, the Knox County Board of Education and Knox County Schools superintendent Bob Thomas.

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