Delaware is dropping proposed guidelines outing trans students to their parents if they wish to be referred to in a manner consistent with their gender identity in schools.
First unveiled last October, Regulation 225 would have permitted students to self-identify their race and gender in Delaware’s 19 districts and charter school systems. It was introduced at the urging of Democratic Gov. John Carney, intended to enhance the state’s nondiscrimination laws after the Trump administration rescinded Obama-era guidelines on trans inclusion in schools.
The parental notification policy was implemented at the urging of conservatives opposed to the trans-inclusive changes.
More than 11,000 people chimed in on Regulation 225 during a public comment period last year, and the vast majority of feedback was negative. Critics feared it would violate the privacy of women and children, while violating the rights of parents to determine the best educational environment for their kids.
These objectors were joined by nearly a dozen state legislators and board members with the Indian River School District in Sussex County, who unanimously opposed the regulations.
LGBTQ advocates noted, however, that the parental notification rule would endanger the very students Regulation 225 was initially called to protect. Requiring permission from parents and guardians before trans youth can be referred to by their chosen name and pronouns may serve to out students with unsupportive families.
When the Delaware Department of Education reopened public comment following the introduction of the parental notification guidelines, it received more than 3,000 pages of messages from angry locals.
One respondent claimed it was a “danger to trans children.”
“Trans/queer kids make up 50 percent of homeless youth and many of them leave home because they cannot safely be out there,” warned Cynthia Ames. “As you know, the Delmarva region is not always as queer and trans-friendly as one would hope, and this bill as currently written, forcing children to be outed to their parents if they express a gender identity differing from their birth assignment, will literally kill kids.”
“There are countless stories of transgender youth who are abused physically, emotionally and verbally by family just as much as classmates and strangers,” said Joyce Muller. “Gutting this regulation puts them into a potentially dangerous situation.”
“The changes you’ve allowed to be made take a regulation intended to help LGBTQ students and makes it a weapon of harm against trans youth in schools,” added Victoria Datta. “Stop the harmful mess that this regulation has become and start over with a draft that includes input from those most affected by the outcome of this regulation — trans students, their parents, and their chosen advocates — not groups that actively work against the fair and equitable inclusion of trans people.”
Following the flood of criticism, the state’s DOE said it was going back to the drawing board. In a statement released on Thursday, Delaware Secretary of Education Susan Bunting claimed “the significant public comments” made it “clear we still haven’t struck the right balance.”
“For those reasons, we’re not going to finalize the current proposed version of the regulation,” she claimed.
LGBTQ advocacy groups celebrated the somewhat bittersweet defeat of an anti-discrimination policy that had strayed far from its original purpose. As initially proposed, Regulation 225 would have prohibited “unlawful discrimination in educational programs and activities for students, on the basis of any legally protected characteristic.”
“The Delaware Department of Education has a responsibility to protect transgender students, not put them in harm’s way,” claimed Dolph Goldenburg, interim executive director for the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund.
“It is vital for transgender students to be able to present themselves authentically in their school environments without being required to disclose their identities to their parents or guardians if they do not feel safe doing so,” he continued. “All trans students deserve to be themselves and be supported by their schools so that they can learn and thrive, free from fear or discrimination.”
Sarah McBride, press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign and a Delaware native, added in a statement that the governor’s intention has always “been to support and protect LGBTQ students in Delaware.”
“Unfortunately, the updated draft of Regulation 225 would have undermined the safety and wellbeing of many transgender kids,” she claimed in comments shared with INTO via email. “Compassionate leaders listen, and in the end, Governor Carney listened to the concerns of transgender students and those who love them and withdrew the latest draft.”
Carney claimed in a statement that Delaware is weighing further action.
“We heard concerns from parents who wanted to ensure they had a say in the decisions schools make regarding their children,” he claimed. “We attempted to address those concerns. On the other hand, we heard and understand concerns that have been raised by the LGBTQ community. They are working to protect some of our state’s most vulnerable children.”
The governor also noted that a recent legal victory on behalf of trans students in Pennsylvania’s Boyertown School District likely changes the conversation.
In May, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit dismissed a challenge to an earlier ruling siding with the right of students to use bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity in schools. Although critics of Boyertown’s trans-inclusive policy alleged that sharing a bathroom with transgender students harmed their cisgender peers, a three-judge panel rejected those claims.
“In light of the recent Boyertown decision by the Third Circuit, and the comments received from across our state, we are considering our next steps on Regulation 225,” Carney concluded. “We will remain committed to public engagement as we determine the path forward.”
While Delaware’s anti-trans policy has been defeated, a similar proposal in Ohio remains on the table.