Clark County School Board violated state law at gender-diverse hearing

Updated October 12, 2018 - 6:37 pm

The Clark County School Board violated Nevada’s Open Meeting Law during one of its hearings on a controversial gender-diverse policy for students, the attorney general’s office has ruled.

The opinion — issued last week followed several complaints to the attorney general’s office — states that the violation occurred during the public comment period at a January meeting.

The meeting at Valley High School allowed members of the public to sign up to speak based on where they stood on the policy: in support, in opposition, or neutral.

Multiple people were cut off during the neutral comment period because, in the view of Board President Deanna Wright, they were speaking in opposition or support of the policy and were not neutral, the opinion states.

Comment restricted

“Seven minutes into the neutral public comment period, the chair ended all public comment, stating it was ‘because you guys can’t play by the rules,’” the document notes. “Not all 20 members called out of the neutral ‘bag’ were permitted to speak.”

The board violated Nevada’s Open Meeting Law by restricting comment based upon viewpoint, the opinion concluded.

The policy, which passed on a 4-3 vote in August, gives schools guidance on how to address the needs of transgender students. That includes using the pronouns that such students prefer, and offering three options for where they may change clothes or use the restroom at school.

Public meetings on the policy drew fierce debate between proponents who argued for proper facilities and respect for transgender students, and opponents who claimed the rules were unfair to the vast majority of children who have to abide by them.

District spokeswoman Kirsten Searer said the meeting in question was intended only to gather public input on the policy, so the policy is not affected by the ruling.

“Since there was no action taken at the meeting in question, no corrective action has to be taken,” Searer said.

Parent Rebecca Rasmussen, a member of the Power 2 Parent group that lobbied hard against the policy, said she was cut off while trying to speak under the “neutral” category.

“They made us take a side whether we were for or against and I felt like, you know, I’m here to advocate for all children, including the transgender children,” she said. “I didn’t want to take a side so I signed up to speak under neutral.”

‘I’m sorry, you’re done’

Footage of the meeting shows that when Rasmussen began to speak about her concern that the policy could pave the way for sexual predators to target students, Trustee Deanna Wright interrupted.

“You cannot talk about predators and calling a group predators,” she said, amid shouts from the crowd. “Sorry, sorry — you’re done. I’m sorry, you’re done.”

Rasmussen said she went home that night “with my tail between my legs” — but then realized it was her right to speak.

“They called all these meetings under the guise of listening to parents,” she said. “I don’t think that’s really what’s happening.”

The School Board prevailed on two other matters that drew complaints.

The attorney general’s office ruled that the working group that came up with recommendations for the policy was not subject to Open Meeting Law and therefore did not violate it by meeting privately.

The board also avoided a violation of the law when it rescheduled a February meeting at a larger venue to accommodate the expected large crowd, the ruling stated.

The School Board must acknowledge the ruling at a public meeting, likely at its regularly session next week. The attorney general’s office also recommended training for board and staff members on the Open Meeting Law.

Contact Amelia Pak-Harvey at apak-harvey@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4630. Follow @AmeliaPakHarvey on Twitter.a

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