Schools prepare for transgender law
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Schools prepare for transgender law

Districts working to comply with measure that takes effect Jan. 1

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Transgender figures

Transgender figures sign

Transgender students in Kings County could see a few changes for them on campus next year.

School districts are working toward making sure all of their policies and programs are aligned with AB 1266, the new state transgender law which goes into effect Jan. 1. However, there is still some uncertainty amongst administrators about what they have to do to comply and how exactly schools will be affected by the law.

“We’re updating our policies to make sure everything is appropriate and that they meet the requirements,” said Ward Whaley, director of administrative services for the Hanford Joint Union High School District. “We’ve done mandated training for all employees to make sure everyone is educated on the issue and prepared for it.”

The law says public schools cannot prohibit transgender students from entering any class, school program, sports team or facility they identify with their gender.

Due to current antidiscrimination laws, Whaley said a lot of the requirements have been met or only need some small changes to comply. He also said that students in the district have mostly been accepting of transgender students.

“For us, it hasn’t been something that we’ve really had to worry about,” he said. “Kids in Hanford tend to be diverse in how they think about things and accept things, so it’s probably not going to make a big difference.”

Whaley said so far they haven’t received many calls or complaints from parents about the issue. Elsewhere in the state, however, a coalition is aiming to repeal the law through a measure on the November 2014 ballot. The group, called Privacy for All Students, submitted a petition to the Secretary of State’s Office with about 620,000 signatures from registered voters.

However, 82 percent of those signatures have to be proven to be valid. In a preliminary sample, the measure has fallen short, with about 77 percent of the signatures checked shown to be valid.

“Even if it makes the ballot, I don’t think the law will be overturned,” Whaley said. “Appeals of gay marriage laws and other similar laws in the state haven’t been very successful. We have to move forward assuming the law will still be in place.”

Although Whaley said preparing for the law hasn’t been a major concern, he believes not all of the ramifications of the law have been revealed or understood yet. As it’s a new issue, he said everyone’s learning about it as they go. He foresees that there could be some future challenges that the district may have to solve.

“I could see that we might need new facilities such as bathrooms down the road,” he said. “We might also have to do more training.”

Unlike the Hanford district, Corcoran Unified School District Superintendent Rich Merlo said they haven’t gotten very far in preparing for the law because he said they are waiting for additional direction from the state in what they need to do to comply. He said it’s likely they will have to build new bathroom facilities.

“What makes sense to protect everybody is to have bathrooms that are unisex,” he said. “Currently, our bathrooms aren’t designed for that, so that’s something we might have to do. Unfortunately, building new facilities costs a lot of money.”

Merlo said it’s likely that any construction would have to be paid for by the district, rather than through extra money provided by the state. He said it would probably come out of the district’s general fund.

“We’re hoping that if we do have to have some construction done, it won’t be very disruptive,” he said. “Sacramento needs to think about the impact laws like this have and get feedback from the public before they’re approved.”

Whaley said what’s most important is that all students feel safe and have equal opportunities available to them. He said he doesn’t believe the transgender students are trying to cause problems or draw extra attention to themselves.

“They’re just trying to find ways to deal with what they’re going through,” he said. “Everyone should be able to exercise their rights. We need to let these students get the education that’s most appropriate for them.”

The reporter can be reached at 583-2429 and at jluiz@hanfordsentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @JosephL_HS.

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