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The passage of HB2 last month set off a firestorm of criticism and boycotts. (Photo: Nathania Johnson/flickr/cc)

After Outcry, North Carolina School System to 'Rethink' Pepper Spray

One board member seemingly cited anti-transgender legislation to justify policy

Nadia Prupis

A North Carolina school system representative said Wednesday that the district would "rethink" its position on allowing students to carry pepper spray on campus, after one board member's comments sparked outcry from LGBTQ advocates.

The Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education on Tuesday approved a policy that would allow students to carry pepper spray in the fall, which board member Chuck Hughes claimed would be useful to "female students" in light of the state's ongoing crackdown on transgender rights, the Salisbury Post reported.

The board amended certain rules dictating whether students may be able to carry defensive sprays and other items that could constitute weapons, such as personal razors. However, Hughes explicitly referenced the state's anti-LGBTQ legislation known as House Bill 2 (HB2), which requires people to use public bathrooms that correspond to their biological sex, rather than their gender identity.

"Depending on how the courts rule on the bathroom issues, it may be a pretty valuable tool to have on the female students if they go to the bathroom, not knowing who may come in," Hughes said.

Hughes walked back his statement on Wednesday, telling Buzzfeed News that his comments were "inappropriate" and that he had been referring not to transgender students, but to "perverts and pedophiles taking advantage of this law in bathrooms."

The rule change prompted outcry from groups like Equality NC and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Josh Wagner told local media that members "will discuss this further at the business meeting this month," citing state statutes saying mace and pepper spray are not prohibited items for schools.

For his part, Hughes told Buzzfeed that other board members told him they would "think this over again," and promised that he "personally will vote to put pepper spray back into the prohibited items list."

The passage of HB2 last month set off a firestorm of criticism and boycotts against North Carolina, including warnings from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) that it violates civil rights protections and could result in loss of federal funds.

North Carolina and the DOJ filed dueling lawsuits this week over the bill, which U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch called "state-sponsored discrimination."

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