In 2014, Republicans were unanimous in their opposition to the Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools Act, an anti-bullying bill that they said would diminish the local control of school boards in addressing bullying. Last weekend, Republicans passed legislation that would take away the decision-making ability of local school districts when it comes to transgender inclusion.
A year ago, they were for local control. Suddenly, they are against it. And the only thing to explain it is bias against LGBT students.
In early 2014, a debate raged at the Minnesota Legislature over the Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools Act, a new law that beefed up Minnesota’s anti-bullying laws, which at the time were just 40 words in state statute. It included specific protections for LGBT students, in addition to more than a dozen other categories of at-risk youth. Local control became the mantra for most opposition to the bill.
On Feb. 27, 2014, Rep. Steve Drazkowski wrote that the bill will “take this decision making away from school boards.” In an April 4, 2014, email from the Minnesota Family Council, the group asked legislators to reject the anti-bullying bill in order to “protect the local control of local school districts.” A week later, Rep. Peggy Scott, a Republican from Andover, told constituents that the bill was “usurping the authority of locally-elected school boards.” On April 16, House Majority Leader Joyce Peppin wrote that it “Takes away local control from school boards/administrations and gives it to the state.” On March 14, Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer wrote to constituents saying the anti-bullying bill “relies on top-down state government involvement rather than local district control.” On April 4, Sen. Dave Brown lamented the passage of the safe schools bill: “Last night the DFL controlled senate passed the bullying bill that takes away local control.”
All of these Republicans are sponsors of HF1546, a bill that would force at least two school districts — Minneapolis Public School District and St. Paul Public Schools — to drop their transgender inclusive policies, policies that were crafted and approved at the local level. In St. Paul in particular, parents, teachers, and students gave hours of nearly unanimous testimony in support of the policy which makes it easier to be a transgender student in the city’s schools. The school board voted unanimously to approve it after years of policy development.
Under the proposed bill, the Legislature would dictate to Minneapolis and St. Paul — and any other school district considering transgender-inclusive policies — that they cannot enact such policies. In fact, the bill directs the school districts to police school facilities such as restrooms and locker rooms, and check students’ chromosomes and physical anatomy to determine who can use which facility. The bill states, in part:
“Sex” means the physical condition of being male or female, which is determined by a person’s chromosomes and is identified at birth by a person’s anatomy. (a) A public school student restroom, locker room, changing room, and shower room accessible by multiple students at the same time shall be designated for the exclusive use by students of the male sex only or by students of the female sex only. (b) A public school student restroom, locker room, changing room, and shower room that is designated for the exclusive use of one sex shall be used only by members of that sex.
As of Saturday, that language has now been added to the K-12 education omnibus bill. On Wednesday, the Minnesota Senate rejected that language. All but three Republican Senators voted for it.
The bill’s author, Republican Rep. Tim Miller, tried to pin the apparent hypocrisy about local control on the DFL in a recent appearance on Pioneer Public Television.
“There’s a bit of hypocrisy because last year we passed an anti-bullying law which basically said that even though you currently have bullying policies, we believe that there’s a state interest in putting control and order in our schools in this formal way and now this year it’s hands off on the schools. . .”
On the same program, Sen. Scott Dibble, who wrote the anti-bullying bill, took issue with Miller’s characterization: “First of all, the representation of the bullying bill as somehow dictating all of the parameters and policies is a misnomer and a myth that has been perpetuated about the anti-bullying bill for a long time. It gives tools, it gives minimal expected standards but school districts are directed to craft and create those policies and promulgate them in conversation with their own communities and their own parents.”
That appears to be in line with the Minnesota Republican Party platform: “We support the belief that parents are responsible for their children’s education and that parents, teachers and local school boards can make the best decisions about our children’s education.” One need not take into account Dibble’s correction, because even if the bullying bill did “usurp” local control as Rep. Peggy Scott put it, Republicans are unambiguously usurping local control when it comes to transgender inclusion. They can’t have it both ways without being seen as hypocrites.
How can Republicans be on the side of local control in education in 2014 and against it in 2015? The most logical answer is that the conservative principle of opposing equity for LGBT students trumps the conservative principle of local control.