SALISBURY, N.C. – The Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education recently voted to allow high school students to carry mace and pepper spray to school, with at least one board member citing the transgender bathroom issue as a motivating factor.
Board members discussed the issue and others at a work session in the Wallace Education Forum Monday, continuing a debate initiated during an April board meeting, the Salisbury Post reports.
“Depending on how the courts rule on the (transgender) bathroom issues, it may be a pretty valuable tool to have on the female students if they go into the bathroom, not knowing who may come in,” board member Chuck Hughes said, citing state legislation that requires public entities to maintain bathroom facilities based on biological gender that’s now the subject of federal lawsuits.
The board debated whether officials should allow students to carry pepper spray or mace or other defensive sprays with them into school buildings, or whether they should require students to lock the canisters in their vehicles.
“I imagine every football game there is on Friday night there’s more pepper spray in the stands in pocketbooks and key chains and you know, we never have an issue with it,” board member Travis Allen said.
Allen argued that forcing students to lock the spray in their cars could create unintentional violations.
“You start this whole kind of snowball,” he said. “So I don’t want to put the students in this weird situation when they really didn’t do anything, they just happened to forget to check their purse every single day.”
Board member Susan Cox pointed out the spray could be useful for long walks between school facilities and parking areas after events, but not if it’s locked in the vehicle.
Board members on Monday ultimately agreed to remove wording in school policy prohibiting defensive sprays, and added stipulations that allows only high school students to carry it on campus, though the change is not set to take effect until next school year. The board also approved the use of disposable razors for personal grooming, the Post reports.
Shortly after the decision, school officials, particularly Hughes, started to walk back their decision.
According to BuzzFeed:
Hughes backtracked Wednesday, telling BuzzFeed News that his comments were “inappropriate” and that they had nothing do with the LGBT community.
“I was not thinking about the LGBT issue,” Hughes said. “Perverts and pedophiles taking advantage of this law in bathrooms was my major concern.”
North Carolina and the Department of Justice have sued each other over House Bill 2 (HB2), which was passed into law in March and bans transgender people access to restrooms that match their gender identity in government buildings and schools. …
Hughes said he thought of pepper sprays as a “defensive tool” when he voted to allow it on campuses but he realized it could also be misused by students.
“The LGBT issue has never been a problem to my knowledge,” Hughes said. “People have a different sexual identity, they go about their business. You don’t even know that a transgender is in your bathroom. They’re not there to create havoc. But perverts are.”
Hughes said he was not homophobic and that the LGBT community had rights to be protected. “They’re not the ones to look out for,” he said. “My statement was misinterpreted and when I hear other people talking about it, I can see how it was misinterpreted.”
Hughes said he now plans to “vote to put pepper spray back into the prohibited items list along with razor blades, guns, knives, and other items that are not okay to take on school campuses.”
Board chairman Josh Wagner also discussed the about-face with The Huffington Post.
“This discussion in no way addressed the issue that Mr. Hughes brought up,” he wrote in an email. “He is certainly entitled to his opinion and comments. However, the idea had no bearing on the situation or discussion.
“I assure you that the board did not see this as an opportunity to endorse the use of sprays in school for any reason.”