The Hamilton County School Board will vote Thursday on policy changes regarding how transgender children can play sports and how complaints about books and other educational materials can be filed.
In accordance with Tennessee law, which prohibits trans students from competing on college and high school teams based on their gender identity, the proposed change to the district’s athletic policy would define gender as a student’s biological sex.
“Pursuant to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, no person shall, because of his or her sex, be excluded from participation, be denied benefits, treated differently from another person or otherwise made the discriminated against in any school athletic program,” the current policy states.
The proposed change would add language to comply with state law: “A student’s sex for the purpose of participation in middle school or high school sports shall be classified as the student’s sex at birth. “
The Transgender Bill became law last year. In April, Governor Bill Lee signed a proposal that withholds public funds from non-compliant schools.
Chairman Tucker McClendon, R-East Ridge, said in a phone call that the council is voting on the matter so they are aware of state law.
During an agenda review session on Monday, board members had no comment regarding the policy update.
Selection of materials
Proposed changes to the district’s material selection policy include the provision that while some materials may be considered offensive, they may still be used if they demonstrate educational and literary merit.
The current policy outlines the criteria for including material containing adult content, coarse language, and suggestive themes. Among other criteria, administrators should consider its educational purpose, the extent to which it enhances the curriculum, whether it contains a variety of views on controversial issues, age appropriateness, the timeliness and reviews of academic professionals.
In addition to the existing criteria, the proposed policy changes would require administrators to consider “the extent to which content may be considered offensive to contemporary graphic depictions of violence or sex etc.,” it says.
“Provided, however, that otherwise offensive materials may still be used if their relative literary merit, as measured in part by the above criteria, outweighs the offensiveness of the content,” the policy states.
McClendon said the change is to ensure students have options. Books such as ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer’, which have drawn criticism for the way they tackle racial issues, will not be banned because some find them offensive, he said .
“It’s really about making sure our students have the opportunity to get everything they deserve from a library,” McClendon said. “(And to) make sure they have the opportunity to choose books with educational values that might be controversial to some but have extraordinary literary value.”
The revised policy also states that donated materials will not enter library or classroom collections regardless of selection criteria.
“We’re talking about optional reading, where students have the option and parents have the option,” McClendon said.
I-Signal Mountain board member Marco Perez said he took issue with the word “offensive”.
“Who determines what is offensive? How does the community determine what is offensive?” Perez said. “Offensive is a very broad word.”
Review of manuals and materials
The board may also adopt a review process for updated textbooks and materials that prevents individuals from appearing before the board with concerns about the content of any books or other educational materials until they have passed certain steps. The procedure is as follows:
1. A complainant must submit a Request for Review of Instructional Materials form, the validity of which will be reviewed by the school principal and teacher.
2. Upon receipt of the completed form, the Director will request a review of the disputed material within 20 business days. The principal will form an ad hoc materials review committee consisting of the executive director or director of education, the president of the school’s parent-teacher association, or another parent representative appointed by the principal, the principal of a county school serving the same grade levels and in the same learning community as the schools in which the complaint was filed, and a teacher at a county school serving the same grade levels and in the same community apprenticeship than the school in which the complaint was lodged.
Committee members will determine if the material meets the selection criteria and communicate their decision to the school principal. The complainant then has 15 days to appeal the committee’s decision to the Board of Education, which can uphold the review committee or grant a new hearing, the policy says.
Jenny Hill, Board Member, I-Chattanooga, wondered if 20 business days was enough for a committee to review complaints.
“Given recent experiences we’ve had, where we’ve had groups of people, listing (dozens) of books at once, including middle school and high school level texts, I personally don’t want to dedicate staff only reviewing books in a given school or learning community,” Hill said. “I would like them to teach.”
Hill suggested adding language to include a limit on the number of books or other materials a person can submit complaints about.
Council members also discussed clarifying who can submit material complaints. They suggested revising the policy to clarify that only parents or guardians of students in Hamilton County schools can file a complaint with the school their child attends.
“My hope would be that even reading the policies that the state asks us to implement, my hope would be that with a strong backbone, our system would continue to be able to offer a variety of texts from different experiences life,” Hill said. “I personally know that given the realities of the past two weeks in America, a book like ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is more relevant now than it was two weeks ago. So there’s a lot to learn from books that are difficult to understand. read.”
Contact Carmen Nesbitt at [email protected] or 423-757-6327. Follow her on Twitter @carmen_nesbitt.