Schools take wait-and-see outlook on transgender restrooms

Some local school districts are taking a cautious approach when it comes to deciding how to implement a policy regarding transgender restrooms.

“Right now, we are just following the guidelines from the Department of Justice,” Valley Grove School District superintendent Jeff Clark said Thursday. “It’s really our best guide right now.”

The Obama administration released those guidelines a week ago through a joint letter sent to schools from the Departments of Education and Justice.

The letter, which was released during a time when the debate over transgender rights in schools and other walks of public life are at the forefront, told school districts to allow transgender students to use bathrooms matching their gender identity.

“Schools have a responsibility to provide a safe and nondiscriminatory environment for all students, including transgender students,” the letter said.

The Obama administration says requiring transgenders to use same-sex facilities violates Title IX, which is a 1972 law that prohibits discrimination based on sex.

Title IX is directly associated with federal education funding and, although the letter does not explicitly say it, districts could risk losing those federal funds if they choose not to follow the guidelines.

Clark indicated that is not a risk his district is willing to take.

“That funding is critical,” Clark said.

Another component to the situation, Clark said, is that the Pennsylvania School Boards Association has yet to release its own policy on the matter.

Clark said the district is closely tied to the PSBA and, once a policy is released, it would be passed along to a legal counsel for evaluation.

Oil City Area School District superintendent Pat Gavin said the district does not currently have a policy in place and he believes it is difficult to draw conclusions at this point because there are so many varying interpretations of the law being discussed.

Ultimately, Gavin thinks the best way to move forward is to gather more information before making any type of determination.

“We are going to see how some things shake out and get some more opinions, but, honestly, I’m sure most districts have been sensitive and accommodating to situations like these,” Gavin said.

Cranberry superintendent Bill Vonada and Franklin superintendent Pamela Dye couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday.