April 12, 2016

GOP chair started anti-transgender rights effort at APS

Albuquerque Public Schools

Dozens of emails sent to Albuquerque school board members opposing a proposed change in rights for transgender students appear to have come from the same source.

Last month, Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education member Peggy Muller-Aragon publicly stated her opposition to a school directive expanding rights for transgender students.

Peggy Muller-Aragón

Andy Lyman

Peggy Muller-Aragón

After arguing that some parents may not be comfortable with their children sharing bathrooms and locker rooms with transgender students, Muller-Aragon said she received hundreds of emails from constituents who didn’t want to see the directive go forward.

In fact, Muller-Aragon received close to 100 emails about the matter on her public school board account, according to records obtained by NM Political Report.  Most of these appeared to copy language from an email from one source—a local Republican Party official

The proposed directive, for which the school board heard public comment last month, would comply with a section of federal law affirming rights for transgender students in public schools.

Per APS policy, the board actually cannot approve or disapprove the directive.

Muller-Aragon did not respond to requests to comment for this story.

Emails expressing outrage

On March 10, a day after Muller-Aragon first protested the directive, one woman sent an email to the entire board expressing her outrage.

“This transgender BULLSHIT has gone far enough….boys are boys no matter what…and girls are girls no matter what,” she wrote. “It is SICK AND PERVERTED AND A SHAM.”

Attached to the woman’s email was a message from Frank Ruvolo, the chairman of the Bernalillo County Republican Party. His message was clear: APS should not implement the new directive.

“The APS school board will meet at 4:30 pm today to consider proposals to establish ‘transgender student rights,’” Ruvolo wrote. “This is, to put it bluntly, just stupid. I have written a letter to try to persuade the board to abandon this issue.”

In his original email, Ruvolo added wording for those who wanted to speak out against the proposed measure. Here is the rest of the email:

I am troubled by the path you are considering with regard to transgender student rights. It appears that the rights of the majority are to be diminished by the few. It appears you are willing to agree to this in the name of political correctness.

Just because some other school district and some other state has passed rules and law to help the transgender community feel better, at the expense of all others, does not mean that you have to do what they did.

I urge you to abandon this issue. The proposed idea that a student can decide what bathroom to use and what team to play with based on their gender identity opens so many problems and potential lawsuits, I can only imagine the cost to the school district over the next few years.

Plus the constitutional problems this will create just adds to the list of reasons to stop this action. Please stop this now. I know many of the issues you are asked to consider are very difficult.

Just because they come up, does not mean you have to do something.

Ruvolo told NM Political Report that he sent the message as a citizen of New Mexico and not as the chair of a political party. Ruvolo is the president of Starr Energy, in addition to his party responsibilities.

School board member Steven Michael Quezada said he received a number of emails from both supporters and opponents of the measure. Unlike the messages in support of the directive, Quezada noted that a number of opposition emails repeated some phrases.

APS school board member and actor Steven Michael Quezada.

APS school board member and actor Steven Michael Quezada.

“The people who were supporting this, you could tell they wrote their own letter,” Quezada said.

Indeed, almost 20 opposition emails included the words, “I am troubled by the path you are considering” and “I urge you to abandon this issue.”

Some letters in support of the measure were sent by transgender students themselves. One student wrote about the physical consequences of not complying with the directive.

“I refraining [sic] from drinking water all day, and held in my urine every day when I needed to go. It was horrible,” the student wrote. “I am now plagued by chronic urinary tract infections, which are incredibly painful, difficult to deal with, and become expensive in the long run. All because I wasn’t able to use the restroom.”

Worries of lawsuits

Ruvolo said he believes the new directive for transgender students will open the school district up for a string of lawsuits.

“This is a giant action that will keep lawyers busy for 30 years,” Ruvolo said.

But the directive’s purpose is to address a mandate that is part of the federal Title IX law that prohibits gender-based discrimination in schools. In 2014, the U.S. Department of Education ordered school districts to include transgender students in their Title IX procedures.

Ruvolo acknowledged that lack of compliance may prompt transgender students to sue the school district. but added that the district might be worse off if the majority of students file suit against the school district.

“If some transgender student decides to sue, they will sue,” Ruvolo said. “But there is fewer of them.”

Adrien Lawyer, a founder of the Transgender Resource Center, dismissed the idea that the majority of students will suffer under the directive as absurd.

“It’s a fearful idea that we are putting all these kids at risk,” Lawyer said.

The specifics of enforcing the directive are still a source of confusion to many. Under APS policy, a procedural directive does not need the board’s approval and is instead enforced by the superintendent and a leadership team.

More members of the public spoke in support of the directive than against it at a school board meeting last month. A smaller number expressed concerns for conforming to a minority of students at the expense of the majority.

APS Superintendent Raquel Reedy decided to keep working on the measure.

APS spokeswoman Monica Armenta told NM Political Report that the district has “no timeline” for when, or if, the procedural directive may be approved.