New Hanover County school board reverses middle school trans-inclusive athletic policy

The New Hanover County school board discusses a new policy prohibiting middle school students from participating in sports that align with their gender identity on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023. (Photo; Screenshot from YouTube.)

The contentious reversal of a New Hanover County Schools policy that allowed middle school students to participate in sports that align with their gender identity sends a “dangerous message” to trans youth, Equality NC said Wednesday.

The statewide organization that fights to secure rights and protections for the LGBTQ community said the board’s decision is a threat to the physical and well-being of trans students.

“We are horrified by the New Hanover County Board of Education’s decision to reverse its trans-inclusive athletics policy,” ENC executive director Kendra Johnson said in a news release. “Sports and athletics are an important part of education for all students, and no child should be denied from participating simply because of who they are.”

The New Hanover County Board of Education reversed the policy Tuesday night on a 4-3 vote. The policy was approved by the previous school board in 2021.

But starting next school year, middle school students attending New Hanover County schools must play the sport of their sex assigned at birth. The North Carolina High School Athletic Association administers the participation policy for high school athletes.

“The previous policy was viewed as a model for trans inclusion in athletics,” ENC said in a statement. “Opponents of the reversal noted that there have been no known issues with the inclusive policy and that this is a ‘backdoor attempt’ to take away the rights of transgender students.”

Critics of the previous policy contend that it’s unfair o allow students assigned male at birth to participate in female sports.

It’s a view that’s shared by State Superintendent Catherine Truitt. A year ago, Truitt, a Republican, condemned the NCAA”s decision to allow transgender women to compete against cisgender women. Several GOP leaders across the country have taken a stand against allowing transgender women to compete against cisgender women.

“As a mom to daughters who are currently both college and high school athletes that have won the indoor #NorthCarolina pole vault championship and hold several 4A track and field records, this has been difficult to watch unfold,” Truitt wrote. “I’m familiar with the intense hours, training, and commitment my daughters put into their craft so they can compete at their highest levels.”

The New Hanover school board’s decision to overturn a policy to allow middle school students to participate in sports that align with their gender comes as North Carolina’s Republican-led legislature tries to ram into law Senate Bill 49, which requires schools to tell parents if their children want to use different pronouns at school and prohibit instruction on gender identity, sexuality, and sexual activity in kindergarten through fourth grade.

“Parents do not surrender their children to government schools for indoctrination opposed to the family’s values,” Sen. Amy Galey, an Alamance County Republican and one of the bill’s main sponsors, said during a press conference last week.

On Tuesday, the state Senate passed SB 49 in a deeply partisan vote in which all Democrats voted against it.

“While Democrats claim to support parents’ rights and filed a watered-down version of a parents’ rights bill, their “support” is nothing more than political theater,” Senate leader Phil Berger, (R-Rockingham), said in a statement. “Republicans remain dedicated to fighting for parental involvement in education, including school choice.”

Democrats filed two parental rights bills of their own this week to counter SB 49. The bills, which are the same, spell out 10 parental rights around minor children’s “upbringing, education, healthcare and mental health.”

The bills also list 14 student rights, which include a “learning environment in which discrimination in all forms is not tolerated by the public school unit or school administration, school police or security personnel, or students.”

ENC contends that schools should protect all students and respect all families—including queer and trans students and families.

“Trans youth already face discrimination in their daily lives and turn to sports as an affirming space,” ENC said. “The new policy will mean that trans athletes miss out on forming friendships and learning important life lessons through sports like self-discipline, self-respect, and what it means to be part of a team.”

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New Hanover County school board reverses middle school trans-inclusive athletic policy