State ed board leader accuses GOP member of ‘sabotage’ on guidelines for transgender kids
Lansing — The State Board of Education’s Democratic president accused a Republican member of trying to “sabotage” proposed guidelines for schools to let transgender students use the bathroom of their gender identity, according to internal board emails released Thursday.
State Board of Education President John Austin released 46 pages of his emails in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from the DailyCaller.com.
The records show board infighting following a public backlash last month over the Michigan Department of Education’s suggested school policies for lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender students.
Austin blamed the criticism on Republican board member Eileen Weiser of Ann Arbor, whose husband, Ron Weiser, is a former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party and an influential donor.
“It is important to know that there are folks purposely fanning the right-wing tea-party activists and their fears of gays and transgender people,” Austin wrote in an March 26 email to the board’s Democratic members. “We learned that Ron Weiser, Eileen’s husband, was personally calling all of the Republican legislators, saying if they did not put out a statement opposing this guidance, their money would be cut off.”
Ron Weiser denied Thursday he made any such calls or threats to GOP state lawmakers.
“I didn’t call any lawmakers,” Ron Weiser told The Detroit News. “I have never in any circumstances threatened any lawmaker with money. It’s John Austin, he made it up.”
Austin said Thursday he got his information second-hand from someone who had heard from lawmakers about Weiser making threats.
“I had a reliable source that I trust who suggested this was happening,” Austin told The News.
Democrats hold a 6-2 majority on the State Board of Education, which has come under new scrutiny by Republican lawmakers because of the proposed guidelines for transgender students.
On March 31, Austin went after Eileen Weiser directly in an email to the entire board and State Superintendent of Instruction Brian Whiston after the Daily Caller published an article about the LGBT student guidelines.
“Eileen, ... I do not appreciate your efforts to sabotage the effort to provide needed and asked for guidance to schools for helping these kids,” said Austin, who accused Weiser of planting news stories about the guidelines.
The Department of Education’s proposed guidelines, which are voluntary, contain suggestions for making gay, lesbian and particularly transgender students feel more included.
But the most controversial proposal called for schools to let students use locker rooms and restrooms that are “in accordance with their gender identity,” creating a potential situation where a student who identifies as female but was born a male could use a female locker room.
“A student should not be required to use a locker room that is incongruent with their gender identity,” the proposed guideline says.
On a case-by-case basis, the proposed guidelines said schools should make accommodations for transgender students to change behind a curtain, in the physical education instructor’s office or another private area, such as a school nurse’s office.
Austin’s emails show Eileen Weiser raised concerns in early March about the proposals before they were made public and asked that the board delay debate on them.
“I am not interested in tabling because some may oppose helping LGBTQ students have a chance to live and learn,” Austin wrote in a March 7 email to Weiser.
The guidelines were developed by a working group of parents, students, educators, social workers and other health care professionals, Austin said.
“If you wanted to see that trans kids are treated fairly, then this is the last document I would have put out,” Eileen Weiser said.
Weiser said one suggested policy would let teachers “hide” from parents a students’ shift in gender identity. She also raised concerns about another suggested policy that schools get rid of gender-based activities and practices that don’t have “a clear and sound educational purpose.”
It could lead to the elimination Girls On The Run, an after-school fitness program for girls, Weiser said.
“Could a trans child run in it? I’m sure they could. But it’s called Girls On The Run,” Weiser said. “When you start getting into that discussion, you’ve lost the battle.”
Because of the hundreds of emails board members have received about the proposed guidelines, the public comment period has been extended until at least the next board meeting on May 10, Austin said.
“There have been overwhelmingly positive comments from folks who aren’t generated by these action alerts,” Austin said Thursday.