Dec 052012
 
Bobby Montoya

School officials are standing by their belief that a policy to address the needs of transgender students is not necessary in the district, despite more than 10,000 people asking them to write one.

An online petition directed at Superintendent Mark Conrad was started in September, requesting the district draft a policy to address issues specific to transgender students. As of Tuesday afternoon, 10,632 people from around the country had signed the petition, hosted at ThePetitionSite.com. It is not known how many are from Nashua.

“With young students, a case-by-case basis system can help personalize an individual’s school needs,” the petition states. “But general school rules against harassment are not necessarily enough to ensure them administrative support.

“Strong transgender policy language gives guidelines for approaching dress codes, bathroom use, and sports participation. Good policies also neutralize learning environments, which benefits students who could otherwise fall prey to harassment or discrimination.”

But Conrad said he believes the district does not need such a policy. There is an anti-discrimination policy, he said, which protects all students, while school procedures help deal with any issues that come up with individuals.

“We’re striving for a learning environment that seeks to address the needs of every student,” Conrad said. “Where we have had transgender students in the district, we have been able to work with them successfully.”

The petition was created in response to a settlement between the district and a transgender student’s family – an agreement that gained national attention at the start of the school year.

The agreement addressed discrimination complaints made by the student’s family last year, and allowed the student to switch schools and be addressed as a female by school staff.

According to the agreement, provided to The Telegraph by the family, the student will be treated “the same as all female students in every aspect,” including being identified as a female in education records, allowed access to the restrooms used by her female classmates and permitted to wear the clothing that female students wear.

While Conrad said he was surprised to hear about the petition Tuesday, it did not change his mind about whether a specific policy about transgender students is needed in the city.

“We’ve had very few transgender students over time, and I would expect that to continue,” he said. “Putting into place a policy for a concern that may come up very rarely, I think we have to be careful of that. Usually policies are created to address those events that occur on a regular basis.”

Board of Education President Robert Hallowell agreed.

“The mission of our schools is to provide an individualized learning experience,” he said. “In this case, and many others, we took the time to find out what was best for that student. I think we succeed when we do that.”

Policy Committee Chairman Thomas Vaughn said he has been researching the idea of creating a policy to address the needs of transgender students, but that he is not sure he would ever bring such a policy to his committee, or if a policy is needed.

Still, Vaughn said that future dealings with transgender students could be simpler with more guidance.

“If we were to move forward with a policy, which we have not, I would like it to make sure it ensures the rights of students and provides some guidance to administrators, who might not have encountered this situation before and are not sure how to deal with it best,” he said.

Vaughn said his research of what other school districts are doing to address the needs of transgender students has been difficult, however, since many others do not have specific policies.

But many states have laws that protect transgender individuals. New Hampshire is the only state in New England that does not.

Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders senior attorney Ben Klein said the lack of a state law makes having school district policies all the more important.

Even if schools are working successfully with transgender students already, Klein said, having a policy in place is important.

“A policy ensures that transgender students are going to be treated fairly in all circumstances,” Klein said. “It’s great if schools have been doing the right thing, but that shouldn’t be left to happenstance and the particular personnel involved.”

But Conrad said just because the district doesn’t have a board-level policy, it doesn’t mean there isn’t guidance for administrators working with transgender students and other students with specific needs.

Each city school has a team of educators designed to address the needs of students. If a teacher has a concern about a student, or if a student or family member brings a concern to the school, these teams work with the student and all stakeholders to help determine what supports or other help the child may need.

“The needs of each student are going to be so very different,” Conrad said. “We have to be careful when we talk about different groups of students, that we don’t assume they have the same needs. Certainly that would be true of transgender students.”

If the online petition, which has no end date posted, was ever officially presented to the superintendent, Conrad said he would take the matter to the board. Whether it would make a difference is hard to know.

“It might prompt the question at the level of the board about whether they want to have a policy,” he said. “The board is aware of my position, but it is the board that makes decisions on policy.”

Click here to view the online petition requesting the creation of a policy to address the needs of transgender students in the Nashua School District.

Danielle Curtis

http://www.nashuatelegraph.com/news/985926-469/10000-people-sign-petition-asking-nashua-schools.html

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