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Pittsburgh Public Schools to vote on policies for transgender students

| Monday, May 2, 2016, 11:30 p.m.
Dominic Pivovarnik, 18, of Banksville, (far right) and student at Brashear High School, addresses the members of the Pittsburgh Public Schools board at Pittsburgh Public Schools building in Oakland during a workshop about a transgender student non-discrimination policy in effect at Brashear, Monday, May 2, 2016
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Dominic Pivovarnik, 18, of Banksville, (far right) and student at Brashear High School, addresses the members of the Pittsburgh Public Schools board at Pittsburgh Public Schools building in Oakland during a workshop about a transgender student non-discrimination policy in effect at Brashear, Monday, May 2, 2016
Tiahna Flannigan, 17, of Mt. Washington, (middle) and student at Brashear High School, addresses the members of the Pittsburgh Public Schools board at Pittsburgh Public Schools building in Oakland during a workshop about a transgender student non-discrimination policy in effect at Brashear, Monday, May 2, 2016
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Tiahna Flannigan, 17, of Mt. Washington, (middle) and student at Brashear High School, addresses the members of the Pittsburgh Public Schools board at Pittsburgh Public Schools building in Oakland during a workshop about a transgender student non-discrimination policy in effect at Brashear, Monday, May 2, 2016

The Pittsburgh Public Schools board plans to vote June 22 on a districtwide policy that would protect transgender students from discrimination.

If it is approved, the district plans to implement the policy by next school year.

The board, during a nonvoting meeting Monday night, discussed a draft of the policy posted on the district's website last month. It would provide guidance to teachers and students about students who identify with a gender other than their sex at birth. The eight-page policy would allow all students to use the bathrooms, wear the clothing and use a name appropriate to their gender identity.

District employees would not be required to notify the student's parent about the child's transition.

“I'm glad to see that Pittsburgh Public Schools continues to do what's right by law and protect all students,” board member Sylvia Wilson said.

Transgender rights have been a controversial topic across the country following the passage of laws in some states that require citizens to use bathrooms that correlate with their biological sex.

Last month, the Springfield School Board in Montgomery County became the first in Pennsylvania to pass a formal policy on transgender students and the Lower Merion School District, also in Montgomery County, had a first reading of its policy.

Officials in the Pine-Richland School District also are considering a formal nondiscrimination policy for transgender students. The majority of school board members during a staff services committee meeting Monday night favored adopting a new policy, rather than revamping an existing one or using administrative regulations, which would not require a board vote.

Owen Kenney, Pine-Richlands's director of human resources and legal affairs, advised that if a policy is to be in place by the start of the 2016-17 school year, a first reading would have to be ready for the July 11 board meeting.

At Brashear High School in Pittsburgh's Beechview neighborhood, an anti-discrimination policy has been in place for two years.

Four Brashear students, some of them transgender, who are members of the Gay Straight Alliance club, encouraged the Pittsburgh school board to adopt a districtwide policy. But they stressed it needs to be enforced, and the district should promote the formation of GSA clubs to support students at each school.

“A policy is useless if it is not enforced,” said Axl Sowers, 17, a junior at Brashear and a transgender male.

“This policy is not just about bathrooms, it's about dignity,” said Devin Browne, a Brashear teacher who oversees the GSA. “The work you're doing is very important.”

Dominic Pivovarnik, 18, transitioned from female to male in December and told the board that the support he received at Brashear was great.

“I really want other transgender students to get the same support I got,” he said.

Linda Fiejdasz, who has two sons in Pittsburgh schools, said after the meeting that she wants the policy to include language that would protect students who are uncomfortable sharing a bathroom or locker room with a student who is of the opposite sex physically.

An easy solution, she suggested, would be gender-neutral, single stall bathrooms.

“Since we conquered building ramps and elevators, that's an easy solution that serves all students well,” she said.

Aimee Zundel, the district solicitor, said the boards' policy committee largely based its draft on the policy at Brashear, but also looked at policies from other school districts and recommendations from the federal Department of Education Office of Civil Rights.

The district does not track how many transgender students attend Pittsburgh Public schools.

Staff writer Vince Townley contributed. Elizabeth Behrman is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

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