Jeff Jacobs: Withholding federal funds over transgender-athlete policy is cruel ploy | #Education

Thursday was supposed to be a day for recharging. The old man can’t go all nine innings anymore. He starts losing his fastball after dangling his third or fourth participle.

So you know what that means. Twelve hours on couch patrol watching sports. The U.S. Open, the Celtics, the Sun, the Islanders, pieces of the Yankees and NFL games.

Still, this is 2020. You know what that also means.

There will be some collision of 2020 reality and athletics to make you angrier than Marcus Smart peeling the paint in the Celtics’ locker room after the NBA Eastern Conference Game 2 loss to the Miami Heat. Something that will leave you more disappointed than Islanders captain Anders Lee after his team was eliminated in overtime from the Stanley Cup playoffs by the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Late Thursday afternoon came a story by Pat Eaton-Robb of the Associated Press that the U.S. Department of Education has actually gone ahead and threatened to withhold some federal funding from Connecticut school districts if they follow the state policy that allows transgender athletes to compete as girls in high school sports.

My mouth dropped as wide open as after Patrick Reed’s hole-in-one during the Open’s first round at Winged Foot.

Are you kidding me?

Then again, this was the same news cycle in which President Donald Trump announced he was creating a commission to promote “patriotic education” and the creation of a grant to develop a “pro-American curriculum.”

The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights had rattled the sword of grant-withholding in May when it ruled the CIAC transgender policy was in violation of Title IX, the federal civil rights law that guarantees equal education opportunities for women. Turns out Betsy DeVos and her camp weren’t kidding. Wow.

FILE - In this March 27, 2020, file photo, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room in Washington. The Chicago Teachers Union on Wednesday, May 20, 2020, announced it is suing U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and the city's public school district, saying its policies interfere with the education of students with special needs during the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

The Connecticut congressional delegation complained in a letter Thursday to Kimberly Richey, the Education Department’s acting assistant secretary for civil rights, that the threats were an “unprecedented overreach.”

I’d call it a colossal overreach.

“It’s unethical that the federal government is using extortion tactics to push New Haven and other towns to go against our values and against state law on the backs of public school students,” New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker said Friday.

This was never supposed to be about school districts like New Haven and the Capitol Region Education Council being asked to sign a document stating they will receive grants for a magnet-school program only if they do not participate in interscholastic events until the CIAC changes its policy that allows transgender athletes.

This was never supposed to be about using sports to deny others educational opportunities.

This was never supposed to be about those who want to exclude transgender athletes mockingly saying “Hey, look what the state has done! They’re risking the closures of programs, the elimination of teaching jobs, all because of men running in girls’ races.”

Elicker said New Haven could lose the final two years of funding for its five-year magnet school grant. Federal Magnet Schools Assistance Program Grants are worth about $3 million a year to New Haven and the education council. So this is a potential $6 million impact on New Haven. Beyond the loss of opportunities with STEM and criminal justice education, some teachers and staff are fully funded by the grant. Elicker said LEARN in New London and a few other state towns were affected.

What a cruel ploy.

Elicker and Timothy Sullivan, superintendent of schools for the education council, have said they have no intention of signing that document.

Bully for them.

Ever since transgender student-athletes Andraya Yearwood of Cromwell and Terry Miller of Bloomfield began winning races a few years ago, this has been at once a highly sensitive and highly controversial topic that has stretched from Connecticut around the world. One GameTimeCT video of them running had more than a million views.

Opinions are everywhere. Science, from both sides, is cited as absolute truths. The high school careers of Miller and Yearwood ended before last spring when COVID-19 canceled the outdoor track season. The fight goes on.

In addition to going to the Department of Education, the Alliance Defending Freedom, representing four cisgender athletes, also has a federal court case against the Connecticut Association of Schools and Bloomfield, Danbury, Cromwell, and Canton school districts. In the case, filed in February, the girls claim they were denied championships and potential college scholarship opportunities as the result of having to compete against the two transgender girls who won a combined 15 indoor and outdoor titles.

This is about lives, not just a starting gun and a finish line. I have long argued that transgender athletes must have a comfortable place to compete. That few of us are more at risk for drug use, suicide and exclusion than transgender teens. We must do right by them and ultimately, God willing, we will do right by them.

Yet I also have argued that it didn’t take a team of geneticists and bioethicists to see that on a given day, on a given track, that a transgender girl who had not undergone any sex reassignment therapy had an advantage in a 100-meter dash.

So we are left with a dilemma that the Olympic movement and international sports committees have wrestled with for years over testosterone levels. Some more judiciously, more humanely than others. State high school associations have varying rules across the nation. CIAC policy complies with state law that requires students to be treated as the gender they identify. In all, 18 states operate without such restrictions.

I have hoped that, if this is truly about inclusion in the high school experience and not about medals, that some sort of compromise could be reached where the transgender high school track athletes who have not progressed in treatment could compete wherever they want, yet the results in state-level meets be counted separately.

Their times will be official. They will be with their teammates. Prospective college coaches can see them run.

I also don’t pretend to have the 100 percent correct answer. Yet all along, this should have remained a competitive fairness debate about whether transgender girls could compete in a foot race against cisgender girls at a high school track meet. This never should have spilled over into the classroom.

There will be a day when I address Kemba Walker’s up-and-down performances for the Celtics in the playoffs.

There will be a day when I address the Sun bouncing back from an 0-5 season start to advance into the WNBA semifinals.

There will be a day when I talk about the Yankees hitting five home runs in one inning and whether Dustin Johnson, No. 1 in the world and 2020 Travelers champion, should have more than one major title.

Today’s not that day.

Not when the federal government is using a couple of innocent young women to threaten the rest of our kids’ education.; @jeffjacobs123

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