COVINGTON — The last Covington Board of Education meeting on Thursday brought a community member addressing the board on a controversial federal directive regarding transgender students.
During public comment, community member Nathan James addressed the board to speak out against a federal transgender bathroom directive, or “Dear Colleague” letter, that the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education sent to Ohio school leaders and administrators last week. The directive instructs Ohio schools to allow students to use the bathroom and locker room that corresponds with their gender identity, even if their gender identity is different from their assigned sex at birth.
“I see it as an illegal action attempting to redefine existing law, Title IX,” James said, referring to the Title IX federal education act, which prohibits sex-based discrimination.
Guidelines protecting students who identify as transgender were added to Title IX in 2014. For the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education, prohibiting a student access to the restroom matching the student’s gender identity is prohibited sex discrimination under Title IX. According to the Ohio Department of Education, however, Ohio is a local control state, and therefore, if there is no set law, it falls under local control and is a local decision and local laws would apply.
“That’s circumventing Congress in an attempt to usurp the authority of the local community and the school district,” James said. “It violates religious freedom, potentially of the administration members and the faculty members in the schools, anybody else that holds the reasonable position of thinking that biology determines whether you’re male or female.
“And my third concern is that it just creates an unhealthy environment because they’re attempting to require that schools provide a supportive environment for the idea of subjective gender identity,” James said. “I believe that’s an unhealthy environment for children that rejects both science and scripture.”
The Ohio Department of Education is currently reviewing the directive sent out last week. It is unclear if the directive is legally binding, as protections for transgender people have yet to be decided upon by courts or by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Covington Schools has currently not addressed the possibility of transgender students nor has it been discussed if there are any students in the district who identify as transgender. The board did not comment on their position on the directive.
Troy City Schools recently provided gender-neutral, individual-user bathrooms after one of their students identified as transgender in September 2015.
• Retiring teachers honored
The board honored two retiring teachers, Kathy Luring and Mary Pitts.
Luring is retiring after spending 28 years with the Covington district and over 30 years in the teaching profession.
“She has always wanted to be an educator,” Superintendent Gene Gooding said of Luring. Gooding said that what Luring finds most rewarding is “watching the children become competent readers.”
“I have loved being part of this community,” Luring said. “I first began teaching part-time and then became full-time … It’s defined my life. It’s something that I’ve enjoyed so much.”
“It’s just been an incredible time for me,” Luring said.
Pitts is retiring after teaching at Covington for four years and over 30 years of teaching experience in Piqua. Pitts has taught at levels including kindergarten, first third, and fourth grade. Gooding said that whatever level she was teaching at became her favorite until she moved onto the next one.
“Her greatest love is spending time with her three children and three grandchildren,” Gooding said about Pitts, who plans to spend time with family friends, as well as build on her and her husband’s financial business in Huber Heights.
“I’ve never really thought I would be in Covington but that opportunity has really been wonderful,” Pitts said.
• Student spotlight featured
Tenth grader Joey Schmelzer was honored during the board’s student spotlight along with fellow FFA members Ben Kuether, Lydia Millhouse, and Brandon Magee, all seniors. Covington High School Principal Josh Long commended Schmelzer for representing the school in a positive manner at both the FFA’s state convention as well as during every day school days.
Schmelzer went over his participation at the state convention, receiving third place in equine entrepreneurship.
“It taught me how to be an adult,” Schmelzer said. He also commended the seniors who were not present at the meeting.
“I know they put in a lot of hard work,” Schmelzer said. “They all work extremely hard at what they do, and I’m very proud of all of them.”
• Project updates discussed
The board heard a number of updates on their ongoing buildings and grounds projects. The board authorized the bid package for the track resurfacing project at Covington High School as well as the bid package for the parking lots and concrete work at Covington schools. The new PK-8 school building will have a new 90-space parking lot. The high school parking lot will also be milled and resurfacing. Koester Electric Inc. will be doing the lighting for the parking lots for approximately $14,800.
In addition, a company called Trisco will remove the limestone statue over the entryway to Covington Middle School at a cost of approximately $21,000.
There will also be a public auction of loose items from the middle and elementary schools at the middle school at 6 p.m. June 6.
The board also approved the purchase of five camera systems for the school buses at a cost of $12,700. The purpose of the cameras is to catch other drivers who pass the school buses when they are stopped, such as when they are letting the students on or off the bus. The cameras will only be activated when the school buses’ flashing red stop signs are activated. The cameras will be able to capture license plate numbers of cars that pass the buses, and those drivers can be ticketed.
Gooding said that while the safety of students is most important, the district is also concerned about cost-effectiveness. He explained that the district is able to purchase those cameras due to fuel savings the schools experienced during the recent period of low gas prices.
Reach reporter Sam Wildow at (937) 451-3336 or on Twitter @TheDailyCall