Last week, we made a public records request aimed at shedding some light on the relationship between the Wake County Sheriff’s Office and Wake County Public Schools on the issue of bathroom access for transgender students. We got the results of those records yesterday, as well as a letter from Sheriff Donnie Harrison detailing his thinking on the issue.
In his letter, Harrison says that a uniform policy for the entire school system to adhere to would benefit transgender students as well as his school resource officers and parents of cisgender students, or those who identify with the gender listed on their birth certificates students. “I also strongly believe that if the schools had a policy in place, transgender students and their parents would be more comfortable and willing to come forward. How else would they know what their rights are if we don’t have a policy in place?” he says.
Harrison also pointed to records associated with a January story in WRAL—documents that show transgender Wake County students also called for a uniform policy, several months before HB 2 was signed by Pat McCrory.
The sheriff says he disagrees with the school board, which has stated that it would hold off on making a uniform policy until after the case is decided in the courts. “This situation occurs with law enforcement issues on a regular basis,” he says. “As the courts interpret the laws; our policies are amended to reflect the courts (sic) interpretation.”
Harrison also says that he’s “publicly stated for years that I wanted to stop providing school resource officers and pass it on to the appropriate municipal agencies.”
“I have said from the beginning that my position is not politically motivated,” Harrison says. “My position is from my heart as a father, grandfather, and your sheriff. It can just as easily be argued that the silence and inaction of the school board is politically motivated…the courageous public statements of [students who asked for policy changes in January] went unanswered by the school board. One can only imagine that those students were motivated to make schools safer and better for other students. And the school board did nothing. Why?”
Harrison has a point. With the Obama administration’s executive order back in May, all U.S. public schools were ordered to provide bathroom access to transgender students consistent with their gender identity. Despite that order, many school systems in the state, including Wake County, haven’t budged in deferring their policies to individual administrators; Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools planned to introduce rules consistent with that order, but after an August Supreme Court ruling and organized protests by the right-wing N.C. Values Coalition, CMS reversed course.
In an email dated September 28 obtained via the records request (Harrison was cc’d on the email), Tami Fitzgerald tells an HB 2 supporter that “Wake County Schools are violating HB 2, which is still good law.” That is not true; the executive order, unless it is struck down in court, trumps the state law, which, according to McCrory’s own attorneys, is not enforceable.
You can read Harrison’s letter in full below, as well as the original memo drafted after the incident took place, answers to the questions we gave him, and Fitzgerald’s email.
*The Fitzgerald email has been modified to remove Bright’s email address.