My name is Dawn Fantasia. For the past 17 years, I have worked in NJ public education, both in a traditional public school and public charter schools as a teacher, and then as a vice principal, a middle school principal, and a district-level administrator. For the past five years, I have served on the Sussex County Board of County Commissioners, and I am a mother of three.
This is not my first time testifying before you. I have been here multiple times to request equality for public charter school funding, for equality of opportunity relating to school choice. Curiously, “equitable” treatment and funding for students trapped in failing schools seems to be outside the purview of those who the board majority wishes to “protect”.
However, I am here today to address the recent updates to Chapter 7, Managing for Equality and Equity in Education. It is important to note that this board received 846 comments regarding the proposed changes, with the majority of commentary in opposition.
I take issue with multiple amendments, but I’ll start with one that largely has flown “under the radar”; one that I believe illustrates the tone-deaf nature of not only this board, but also the Murphy administration.
Parents and families have grown increasingly fervent in demanding that information be shared with all stakeholders - lest we forget, parents are stakeholders - as politicians and board appointees take sweeping liberties in crafting progressive updates that align to the en-vogue “cause du jour”. Thousands of parents across the state have requested information and access to curriculum and learning materials, and facing unnecessary barriers, now demand to be directly involved in their child’s education.
As such, imagine my surprise to learn that in this current climate:
“the Department proposes amendments at N.J.A.C. 6A:7-1.6(a)2, which requires the district board of education to invite parents and other community members to participate in the professional development training. The Department proposes, instead, to require the district board of education to ensure that parents and community members are aware of professional development training provided to school district personnel regarding topics around equity. The proposed amendments ensure that parents and community members receive information regarding topics around equity in an appropriate format separate from professional development training for school district personnel.”
As a school principal, I have been evaluated by standards for school leaders, which prominently and repeatedly include collaboration with parents and the greater community. How tone-deaf is it that in this climate, this board yet again elects to shut parents out of direct involvement, and relegates them to passive receivers of information?
Logistical challenges are not a valid excuse for the elimination of this requirement. I have spent the last six years as a middle school principal, navigating more and more arduous, time-consuming guidelines. I question just how many members of this board have spent as much time in a public school building in the last few years. How many of you have taken these feel-good directives and actually lived them in practice? My guess is very few. How many active, in-the-classroom educators have you consulted prior to devising “updates”, or is this another example of operating in a silo, a politically-driven echo chamber?
To continue, the board continues its progressive trend of violating the rights and protections of female students.
The Fourteenth Amendment is clear: “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
This board has codified the lunacy established by the NJSIAA, which first in 2009, and again in 2017, allowed for biological males to compete in female sports.
I implore you - where is the common sense? How could the board majority codify such a policy that hurts our daughters? That targets female student athletes and rolls back decades of progress under Title IX?
It is a physiological fact that male athletes are superior to their female counterparts. As a result, female students now face an increased risk of injury, loss of scholarships, loss of records and titles, loss of playing time...and the list goes on.
"Similarly gifted and trained males have physical advantages over females—from greater height and weight and larger, longer, and stronger bones to larger muscles and higher rates of metabolizing and releasing energy. These innate physiological traits result in greater muscle strength; stronger throwing, hitting, and kicking; higher jumping; and faster running speeds for males, all of which create an athletic edge over females." (https://adflegal.org/article/why-male-athletes-who-identify-transgender-should-not-compete-womens-sports)
And what happens when a transgender student’s identification adversely affects competition or safety?
“If an NJSIAA member school believes that the participation of a particular transgender student would adversely affect competition or safety, that school may appeal the student’s eligibility. The appeal would be heard by the NJSIAA’s Eligibility Appeals Committee (a group of educators). The hearing would be confidential. The hearing would focus on issues related to competition and safety…” (https://www.njsiaa.org/sites/default/files/documents/2022-06/Transgender%20FAQ%27s%20Approved%206-8-22.pdf)
A child is only 15 years old once. Has their senior year once. So while the adults in charge are reactive - instead of proactive - days and weeks and months pass, the season is over, the title is gone, the scholarship opportunity has passed for females. How’s that for “feel good”?
And last, yet another example of zero common sense is separating students not based on physiology, but self-identification.
Have you ever thought - for even a moment - how unsettling it may be for a female to be alongside biological males for human sexuality lessons? That she may feel intimidated? That this may stifle her questions? Or is she somehow a second-class citizen? Are there no “safe spaces” any longer for girls, where their privacy is protected? It’s not protected in bathrooms. Not in locker rooms. Not on the playing field. And now, it is gone from the classroom.
This board has overstepped its authority in codifying these issues; the final straw is the threat of financial sanctions against school districts that do not comply by the board-established deadline. It is time for a step back and a long, hard look at how this board’s attempt at “equity” creates classes of winners and losers, and anything but a level playing field, both literally and figuratively.
Sussex County Commissioner