NHC School Board transgender athlete policy raises questions about discrimination lawsuits

NHC School Board transgender athlete policy raises questions about discrimination lawsuits
Published: Feb. 8, 2023 at 10:38 PM EST
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Opponents of a controversial policy over transgender athletes in New Hanover County Schools are raising concerns that the change could trigger civil rights lawsuits.

The New Hanover County Board of Education voted 4-3 to undo a 2021 ruling that permitted transgender middle school students to play on sports teams that align with their gender identity. Now, students will have to play on teams based on the gender on their birth certificate.

As droves of people both in support and against the change came out to make their voices heard, one question lingered: are transgender athletes protected under federal Title IX regulations?

Title IX was passed in 1972 to protect students from discrimination on the basis of gender or sexual orientation. It’s long been known as a civil rights law that protects women in athletics, but it reaches much further than that. One thing that’s not clear, though, is what it means for transgender people participating in sports.

Those who opposed the change in New Hanover County said they’re worried it could open the district up to discrimination lawsuits. Board members Stephanie Kraybill and Stephanie Walker attempted to table the policy until the board could go through more in-depth Title IX training.

“Obviously that’s one of the things I would’ve liked to have seen if it would have gone back to policy because to not only take a pause and really look at the possible implications of Title IX violations but also the wording,” Walker said.

Kraybill declined to comment on camera, but in a statement said she agrees the board needs more training. She also hopes going forward the board will reevaluate how it goes about changing policy while ensuring students are receiving the support they need to be successful in school and extracurriculars.

But at the board meeting, supporters were adamant they wanted to move forward with rescinding the 2021 decision.

“I believe we are fully able to do this without any further training,” vice chair Pat Bradford said during the meeting. “I respect the member to my left’s (Kraybill’s) opinion, but it is her opinion. There are a lot of opinions out there.”

WECT contacted board chair Pete Wildeboer and Bradford, both of who supported the change, for comment but did not receive a response.

Title IX regulations have changed a lot over the law’s 50-year history, but it continues to be murky when it comes to transgender students in sports. Even last summer, when the Biden administration proposed new Title IX rules, transgender athletes were not included in the ruling.

For now, one thing is clear: middle school athletes in Wilmington will have to play on sports teams based on what’s on their birth certificate.

“What I’m really more concerned about is the impact it’s going to have on our trans students and our students in our community in general,” Walker said. “We really want to do what’s best for them despite what’s going on on the political fray and hopefully they will understand that even though I know it’s hard.”