LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Jefferson County Public Schools may soon expand its anti-harassment and discrimination policy with language that would protect students and teachers regardless of their gender identity or gender expression.

The Jefferson County Board of Education will hear the first reading and discuss the proposed changes to the district's policy during a 4 p.m. work session Monday at the Van Hoose Education Center, 3331 Newburg Road. Any changes would not be voted on until a later school board meeting.

The district's current policy states that harassment and discrimination is prohibited because of an individual's age, color, disability, marital or parental status, national origin, race, sex, sexual orientation, political opinion or affiliation or religion — but it does not include gender identity.

JCPS defines harassment/discrimination as "intimidation by threats of or actual physical violence; the creation, by whatever means, of a climate of hostility or intimidation, or the use of language, conduct, or symbols in such manner as to be commonly understood to convey hatred, contempt, or prejudice or to have the effect of insulting or stigmatizing an individual."

The district's proposal to include gender identity and gender expression goes against the advice of the Kentucky School Boards Association, which does not recommend going beyond what the law lists as protected categories. 

"Our concern in the past has been over the inability to protect these children from harassment," said Linda Duncan, a school board member who represents southeastern Jefferson County. "I am concerned about making a promise that we cannot guarantee."

In the past, advocates like Chris Hartman, director of the Louisville-based Fairness Campaign, has asked the board to specifically include transgender individuals in its policy.

The changes would protect those who are transgender or cross-dressers, according to the district.

This isn't the first time this topic has been discussed in JCPS.

In 2007, the school board narrowly approved a policy change that expanded its anti-harassment and discrimination to include sexual orientation for employees. That vote came after two hours of heated comments from about 50 people who were in support of or against the proposed policy

Last year, Atherton High School made national news when a group of parents fought a decision by the school's principal Tom Aberli to allow transgender students to choose which restrooms and locker rooms they use at school.

Those parents appealed the policy to the school's site-based decision-making council, which ultimately sided with Aberli.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights issued guidance under its Title IX programs extending federal civil-rights protections to transgender students. However, it doesn't offer specific advice on the use of school facilities.

A 2012 article published by the National School Board Association Council of School Board Attorneys, states there have been multiple court rulings across the country that have addressed equal access for transgender individuals.

The article states the issue is "problematic because it places school boards in a position of balancing the rights of transgender students to freedom from discrimination and expression, with the rights of other students and parents to freedom of religion and expression, among others."

In November, Louisville Metro Government implemented a policy that began recognizing gender identity and allows employees who have begun transitioning to use bathrooms "consistent with his or her gender identity." 

Reporter Antoinette Konz covers K-12 education for WDRB News. She can be reached at 502-585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.

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