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Anti-discrimination regulation debate also raises questions about racial identity

Delaware Public Media

State education officials are working on a new anti-discrimination regulation for its public schools.  Regulation 225 could make Delaware could be the first state to allow minors to self-identify their race and gender.

And while much of the debate over this draft regulation has focused on the implications for transgender students, Delaware Public Media’s Sarah Mueller reports some say the controversy over inclusion of race in the regulation came as a surprise.

Shyaira Dineen is still struck by the memory of her first grade teacher telling her to mark her race as black on a standardized test, about 17 years ago.

“I told them ‘But I’m black and I’m white,’ said Dineen.

The University of Delaware junior laughs when asked if she’s ever been tempted to challenge social constructs and identify herself as white, instead of black.

“I have joked that I’d rather say that I’m white and see people’s reactions and understand it’s the same exact thing that they did back during slavery," said Dineen. "You know, they just automatically made someone a certain race because they had a little bit of black in them. And I have a lot of white in me. So, why can’t I automatically be white?”

In 2017, Gov. John Carney (D) ordered the Delaware Department of Education to develop an anti-discrimination regulation for students, including both gender and race.

That’s after President Trump’s administration withdrew guidance allowing transgender students to use bathrooms that match their gender identity.

The Delaware DOE put together a team of parents, community members and LGBTQ advocates to help write the regulation. They assumed gender would be the sticking point.

“And the purpose and the reason is because every meeting that we had had up until that point had been completely hijacked by this issue of you know being able to self-identify the gender,” said Terri Hodges, a member of the team. Hodges is a parent, former president of the Delaware State PTA and biracial.

The Delaware DOE got more than 11,000 comments, and Hodges says the team was surprised by all the attention to the race question.  Many parents were outraged.

One of them was La Mar Gunn. He’s the Central Delaware NAACP President. He says he’s raising his son to be proud of his black heritage and culture.

“I am raising my kid as a strong, young, black male. Period. Does my child have the right to say he’s a young white male? Not in my house. No,” said Gunn.

Gunn says it should be up to parents to make such fundamental decisions as race and gender for their kids … until they reach adulthood.

“It’s a slippery slope when we start thinking about taking rights away from parents. You know, I have the responsibility to make sure that my child goes the right way and is successful in life.”

This spring, education officials bowed under pressure - and revised the rule to require that students get parental approval.

But civil rights groups say the revisions may force schools to “out” transgender students to parents, possibly exposing them to rejection or abuse.

Gov. Carney defends the changes. He says he understands the risks to students. But he also has to respect the rights of parents.

“I think if we start from the idea that every student ought to be cherished and every student ought to be respected, then we’re going to end up with a good result,” said Carney.

Some Delaware high school students are split on the issue of their peers choosing their own gender and race. Amaya Williams, a junior at Mount Pleasant High School, says being mixed race is different than someone switching to their race to something they’re not

“If you’re not going through the struggles that a black person faces on a daily basis, there’s no way for you to feel black. You can appreciate black culture, you can have black friends and you can listen to black music or whatever you do, but you’re not black.  You’re white. And it’s great that you support black people and appreciate our culture, but you can’t do that,” said Williams.

Public comment on the revised language runs through July 6th.

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