JCPS board expands anti-harassment, discrimination policy to include gender identity

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The Jefferson County Board of Education voted to expand its anti-harassment and discrimination policy to specifically include transgender students and employees on Monday night.

Superintendent Donna Hargens said under the new policy, transgender students or employees who feel threatened would report the issue in the same way a student who was harassed for their race or age.

The board voted 6-1 to expand the policy, with board member Linda Duncan voting against it. She made it clear that she was "not in support of discrimination of any kind," but is concerned about the process by which the policy was written and because it did not include input from the district's assistant principals. She also questions how the policy will be enforced.

The district's previous policy stated that harassment and discrimination policy were 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 did not include gender identity or gender expression.

"This is a great night for equity," said school board member Lisa Willner. "I am proud of this board for passing this policy."

Willner note that the expanded policy "doesn't mean everything will be great" or that the district's transgender students and employees will be free from discrimination or harassment. She urged Hargens to ensure that district staff is properly trained. 

Board member Chuck Haddaway said he was also concerned with how the policy was written, but voted in favor of it because the overriding message of the policy JCPS wants every student and employee to feel safe.

Duncan also said she was worried the expansion of the policy could open the door to legal action, saying that the inclusion of gender identity and gender expression goes against the advice of the Kentucky School Boards Association, which does not recommend school districts go beyond what the law lists as protected categories.

Immediately following the vote, the JCPS official Twitter account tweeted out a picture of a double rainbow with the following statement: "Our schools and minds are open. #LGBTQ"

The Bluegrass chapter of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) applauded the action of the JCPS board on Monday night.

“We are pleased to see JCPS pass this policy and join Fayette County as the only two school districts in the state with fully inclusive policies that protect students regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity,” said Zoey Peach, chair of GLSEN Bluegrass. “With the knowledge that they are protected from bullying and discrimination, these policies will ensure a safe and affirming school climate for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students in these schools.” 

In other action, the school board voted to keep the tax rate for the 2015-16 fiscal the same as last year -- 71 cents per $100 of assessed value, which means the owner of a $100,000 home would continue to pay about $710 in property taxes to JCPS.

This is the same rate as the 2013-14 and 2014-15 fiscal years.

Hargens said she did not recommend a tax increase because property assessments are up in Jefferson County.

Cordelia Hardin, chief financial officer for JCPS, said the increased assessments will bring in approximately $16 million to the district, but due to the way the state's funding formula works, Jefferson County will only see about $7 million. The remaining $9 million will go to other schools in the state, Hardin said.

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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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