Although some Western Pennsylvania school districts have started grappling with how to treat transgender students, President Obama’s directive Friday may mean the rest will do so, as well.
In Westmoreland County, the issue is something Jeannette City School District officials have discussed very little, said Superintendent Matthew Hutcheson.
“There has been marginal, minimal discussion because, obviously, it is an issue that is out there,” he said.
He was still researching the parameters of the federal directive Friday afternoon that directed public schools across the United States to let transgender students use the bathrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity. The board is waiting for the state school boards association to formulate a policy that districts across the state could use as-is or model their policies after, he said.
Frank C. Prazenica Jr., the interim superintendent for Leechburg Area School District in Westmoreland and Armstrong counties, said the district, which receives about $1.2 million in federal funding, will follow Obama’s mandate.
“We have no choice. We will comply,” he said. “We’ll do it, and we’ll look at our policies and make sure they comply.”
Prazenica declined to say whether the district has any students who are transgender.
Pittsburgh Public Schools officials said the board will vote in June on a district-wide policy that would protect transgender students from discrimination. The policy, as drafted, would provide guidance to teachers and students about students who identify with a gender other than their sex at birth. It also would allow students to use the bathrooms, wear the clothing and use a name appropriate to their gender identity.
Pine-Richland school board members are aiming to have a policy on transgender students in place by the start of next school year, though that will require having a policy voted upon and passed by July 11. The issue arose last month, and the board has held several informational meetings since then.
Ira Weiss, whose law firm represents 14 local school districts, said last month that he is working with each of them to develop policies to support and accommodate students who were assigned one gender at birth but identify with the other. Weiss said those policies should be in place before problems arise, as they have in cities where districts have been sued for denying transgender students access to certain bathrooms or locker rooms.
“Aside from the legal consequences, which we all want to avoid, it’s a civil rights issue,” said Weiss of Weiss Burkardt Kramer. “It’s protecting individuals and giving them their rights.”