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School refuses comment in dismissal of transgender student-teacher

By Gary Huffenberger
Wilmington News Journal
Friday, May 4, 2012
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WILMINGTON, Ohio — When an area school district dismissed a Wilmington College transgender senior in January on the second day of a student-teaching placement at Hillsboro High School, the district may have broken federal law.

In a statement to the Wilmington News Journal, the Hillsboro school district superintendent based the dismissal on an alleged violation of the Licensure Code of Professional Conduct for Ohio Educators.

When on two separate occasions the newspaper requested he cite an excerpt from the code for his decision, he declined to discuss the matter in further detail.

Title IX federal law, however, “prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, which includes on the basis of failing to conform with gender stereotypes,” said a U.S. Department of Education spokesman. The federal department of education’s press policy is not to use the spokesperson’s name. That department’s Office for Civil Rights enforces several federal laws, including Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

In April, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled transgender people are protected from discrimination in the workplace, The Associated Press reported. The commission’s decision said that a refusal to hire or otherwise discriminate on the basis of gender identity is by definition sex discrimination under federal law.

The 21-year-old student teacher, who at birth was listed as female but who identifies as male and wears men’s clothing, was removed from a Hillsboro High School art classroom and told his placement was over.

Hillsboro City School Superintendent Rick Earley said, “We expect all employees or anyone who comes into our district to be sure to understand the Ohio Code of Ethics for Ohio Educators. Any violation of that we take seriously because we want to protect the well-being of our students and that we protect the educational integrity of Hillsboro City Schools.”

Hillsboro City Schools Board of Education President Sam Barnhouse said Earley informed the board of the action, adding “not a whole lot of detail was given.”

Earley advised the board it was a matter of ethics, Barnhouse said. The student-teacher had discussed his gender-nonconformity with a class, and Earley felt that the person was there to teach and not to discuss personal matters, said Barnhouse.

A retired teacher and principal, Barnhouse said he’s comfortable with the superintendent’s action.

Hillsboro City Schools Board of Education Vice President Beverly Rhoads said the superintendent apprised her the situation was a matter of ethics.

The WC student, who is from rural Ohio, will be anonymous for this report. He said he doesn’t expect to lodge a legal complaint.

The Hillsboro High School principal advised him he had crossed professional boundaries, according to the WC student.

In a News Journal interview, the student said, “I was reminded teachers live in a fish bowl and they’re under constant scrutiny from parents and students alike, and that my behaviors had been outside their community policies.”

The college student said he advised the high school’s supervising art teacher prior to the start of the term he is transgender — not to be confused with a transsexual who has had or will get a sex change operation.

On the first day of class, when some students made he-she comments, the student teacher said he “felt more or less disrespected” and thought he needed to address it for purposes of establishing discipline and to avoid the “telephone game” effect.

“I would much rather say it very openly and honestly and ask if they have questions, comments or concerns, than for it to get around and be misconstrued and be like the game telephone, where things aren’t passed around accurately,” he said.

At three prior student-teaching placements — at Holmes Elementary School in Wilmington, Denver Place Elementary School in Wilmington and at Blanchester High School — the gender-nonconforming WC student was not dismissed.

Michele Beery, WC associate professor of education and area coordinator for the Education Department, said the student-teacher is dedicated and “and has worked hard to meet the criteria for student teaching.”

The cooperating art teacher at Hillsboro, Sarah Horsley, declined comment to the newspaper.

Hollis Stevenson, president of the Hillsboro Education Association teachers union, also declined to comment.

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