September 24. 2012 10:18PM

Nashua school district, parents reach agreement on transgender 3rd-grader

Union Leader Correspondent

NASHUA — One month after a transgender third-grade student transferred from one city school to another, the superintendent says no district-wide policy is necessary.

“We don't have a specific policy on transgender students, but we do have policies in place that prevent discrimination against students and bullying, and we regularly review those policies,” Superintendent Mark Conrad said Monday.

Conrad refused to comment on the case involving the third-grader, whose family reached an agreement with the district that now allows her to wear girl's clothing, use her female name and use the female restroom.

The agreement was intended to help the student thrive in the classroom, Conrad said.

Janson Wu, a staff attorney with Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, represented the girl and her family. Wu also refused to comment on the girl's situation, but said that most school districts and businesses in New England are looking for some guidance when dealing with transgender issues.

His organization has been involved in a few New Hampshire cases, representing state residents who believe they are being discriminated against by their schools or place of employment.

“Transgender is being identified earlier and earlier these days, and it presents unique challenges and opportunities for these students and their schools. When they are reaffirmed, they are more likely to do well in school,” said Wu. “It is hard to generalize, because this really is a new area, and school districts and families are learning together on a case-by-case basis.”

According to Wu, it would be easier if the state of New Hampshire, or individual school districts had policies in place to address transgender issues specifically.

Schools must first educate their administrators and teachers about transgender, and help them to understand what these children are facing, he said.

“We should respect all students and make them feel supported,” added Wu. “Parents often have the most concerns and fears about a transgender student in the classroom, but children are really willing and able to accept people for who they are.”

When asked whether a district-wide policy on how to address concerns from transgender families would be beneficial, Conrad said there is already protection in place for all students.

“It has always been a relatively unique occurrence,” said Conrad. “Because there is such a small number within the school community, we have been able to address their needs on an individual basis.”

Stacie Laughton, a Ward 4 selectman in Nashua and a current Democratic candidate for the House of Representatives, said Monday that she is pleased the Nashua School District accommodated the needs of the local transgender student.

However, Laughton stressed that there will be more students in the local school community who come forward and identify themselves as transgender. And, when that happens, Laughton said it might be beneficial to have a formal policy to address how students will be identified by teachers, how they will be permitted to dress and which restroom they are allowed to use.

“I think the schools could use some guidance, and I think there should be a policy in place,” said Laughton. “I think the schools should let these children express themselves. People, in general, are not open to this, and they often want to go with the status quo. But that is what silences us.”

Laughton, who is the first openly transgender candidate to run for public office in New Hampshire, went public with her status about five years ago. Children typically don't have issues with transgender individuals, she said, maintaining it is mostly adults who are unsure or uncomfortable with the transgender community.