Sunday, April 04, 2004

Local school board continues to defy state law

Here in California, we have a local school board that continues to impose their Christian moral beliefs on their school district.
    A state senator called Friday for the takeover of the renegade Westminster School District after a majority of its trustees continued to refuse to adopt a state antidiscrimination law.

    Because of the stance by three trustees, the state has threatened to withhold money that funds programs for low-income, English-learning and primary-grade students, district administrators said Friday.

    The district stands to lose $7.8 million in state funds, district officials said Friday, significantly reducing their previous estimate of up to $40 million they believed was at stake.

    The adjustment came after California Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell spelled out possible punishment in a scathing letter to district trustees Thursday.

    The tempest was triggered in February when the three trustees refused to revise the district's discrimination complaint policy to adhere to a state law that allows students and staff to define their own gender, regardless of their biological sex.

    Trustees Judy Ahrens, Helena Rutkowski, and Blossie Marquez-Woodcock have said the law affronts their Christian beliefs.

    At a meeting Thursday night, the three trustees remained defiant in the face of overwhelming and angry opposition from parents, teachers, administrators and fellow board members, again refusing to comply with the law. The meeting was the board's last scheduled opportunity to reverse itself before an April 12 deadline set by the state.

    State Sen. Joe Dunn (D-Santa Ana), whose district includes part of the school district, said he has begun crafting legislation that would empower the state to take control of the district because of its failure to comply with the law.

    "If this board majority is not interested in acting in the interests of the kids by placing the district in economic jeopardy, then I believe the state needs to take it over," Dunn said. "I am not interested in [the trustees'] moral beliefs."

    Dunn said that unless Westminster reverses its stance, he will present legislation next week as an amendment to an existing bill and push for urgent consideration. It would then require a two-thirds vote for passage, but Dunn is confident he'll find the support.

    The state can assume control of a district only if it is in severe financial straits. Dunn said his proposed law would allow a takeover for simply defying state law or lower the financial threshold for a takeover.

    Dunn said the bill could move through the Legislature within a month.

    "They can go ahead and have their moral debate," Dunn said of the trustees, "but they are not going to have it at the expense of these kids."

    O'Connell, the state's highest-ranking education official, said the Westminster district threatened to set a dangerous precedent by refusing to obey the law. "We cannot allow school districts to pick and choose which laws they want to uphold," O'Connell said Friday. "They need to know that I will not allow this to go on."

    Ahrens said she had "confidence that we will come up with something that will be sufficient to Jack O'Connell before the deadline," but offered no details. Rutkowski and Marquez-Woodcock did not return calls for comment.
I've already heard local radio providing inflammatory remarks about protecting kids from 'flamboyant transsexuals'. Very distracting. The issue is about upholding a state law which protects children and staff from discrimination in public school.