North Carolina’s largest school system may ban job discrimination based on sexual orientation, but it isn’t going as far as some activists want to also protect the rights of transgender employees.
The Wake County school board’s policy committee on Tuesday reviewed changes to the employment policy that would expand job protections to include barring discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation, genetic information or military affiliation.
But the new policy doesn’t say it will extend equal employment opportunities and benefits regardless of a person’s gender identity or gender expression.
Gender identity refers to the sex that a person identifies with, one that may be different from the one listed on the birth certificate. This category would include people who are transgender.
School administrators said they’re modifying Wake’s policy to mirror the N.C. School Boards Association’s model employment policy, which doesn’t talk about gender identity but does mention sexual orientation.
Although Wake’s policy would officially acknowledge the rights of gay employees under the proposal, Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality NC, said the school system is falling short by not including gender identity.
“If entities are going to update their employment codes in this day and age, sexual orientation and gender identity would need to be included,” Sgro said in an interview. “I would not support it if it didn’t include both.”
The school system’s handling of transgender issues has been questioned lately. Two teens created an online petition because the school system approves some, but not all, requests by transgender students to use school restrooms that match the gender they identify with.
School board members at Tuesday’s meeting didn’t address the new language about sexual orientation and the non-inclusion of gender identity.
“We didn’t even feel the need to discuss sexual orientation because we all agree that it should be there,” said school board Vice Chairwoman Monika Johnson-Hostler.
Board members said they didn’t know why administrators had left out wording about gender identity from the policy. Johnson-Hostler added that she would ask about adding gender identity to the policy when it goes to the full board next week.
Administrators told the board that changes were needed to the policy to comply with the state’s requirement to include new wording about nepotism in school hiring by March 1. Doug Thilman, assistant superintendent for human resources, said the state-mandated revisions allowed staff to also suggest some “minor changes” to the hiring policy.
Much of the committee’s discussion Tuesday concerned making sure that wording was included that would give “strong consideration” to picking school employees for openings if their qualifications equal the qualifications of outside candidates. The committee also included wording saying that Wake should endeavor to recruit staff that reflects the diversity of the community and the students in the school system.
The school system’s workforce has a much higher percentage of white and female employees than the student population.
“We should have staff that reflects the student population,” said school board member Susan Evans.