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Not-So-Grown-Up Behavior

March 29, 2004

State law prevails over local school politics and personal belief. That's a point of basic civics that three befuddled trustees of the Westminster elementary school district should struggle to recall.

The trustees, a majority on a five-member board, voted in February not to adopt or abide by a new state standard expanding anti-discrimination protections to students and staff members who are transsexual or otherwise don't fit traditional gender categories. That decision has already denied the district an important loan and puts up to $40 million in state and federal funding at risk. The argument of the three -- that their Christian beliefs allow them to break a law they think is immoral -- holds little legal or ethical water. They ran for and accepted a job that obligates them to uphold all laws, not just laws they personally condone.

It's not as if gender identity has been a major issue in the 10,000-student district, which teaches children from kindergarten through eighth grade. But the three trustees worry that students and staff might "immorally" define their own sexual identity.

It's the children who end up paying for this grown-up immaturity. Earlier this month, the three said they did not believe that the state would withhold any money, a foolhardy statement that almost forces the state into action. Failure to act would send a message that local officials could ignore state law with impunity.

Ramifications came swiftly. Last week, the district announced that Bank of America had refused to lend it $16 million for school construction, on the grounds that the potential loss of state money made the loan risky.

The stubborn trustees appear to have little support within the district. In opposition are district administrators, teachers, the head of the PTA and the two other board members. Parents have begun a recall campaign.

State education officials should be measured in imposing sanctions. These trustees may not put children's education first, but the state should -- though it cannot shirk from penalties if the posturing doesn't stop.

No one should be forced to act against religious conviction. If the three trustees cannot bring themselves on moral grounds to do their jobs, by all means they should step down and save everyone -- especially their students -- a lot of money and vexation.

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