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They're finished: Beaver County school district dissolves controversial ‘pronoun committee’

Red lockers inside a school.
Sarah Schneider
90.5 WESA

Six months after the South Side Area School Board created a committee to research how teachers are to address students, the board has dissolved the committee.

That doesn't mean the debate is over. Ten members of the ad-hoc committee are running for five school board seats in Tuesday's primary, and the controversy has been an issue in the campaign. Some candidates say they want the district to adopt an affirming and inclusive policy that would require teachers to use a student’s preferred name and pronouns. Others say that would go too far and infringe on religious freedom.

The nine members of the so-called "pronoun committee" included both board and community members. They have met since January to discuss everything from the ‘biblical perspective’ of pronouns and gender to the district's responsibility for creating schools that are safe for all students.

The district’s superintendent and board president did not return requests for comment Friday.

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The district’s solicitor, Ira Weiss, said he’s not sure why the board chose to do away with the committee now, but he doesn’t think it will come back any time soon.

“There is a recognition that perhaps the committee has gotten involved in things beyond its scope and I think the board felt that it was best to put this behind them and move on,” he said.

Weiss said the board has other pressing issues to deal with, including a labor contract negotiation and tax appeals.

The board will maintain a nondiscrimination policy that complies with federal rules, Weiss said. It’s the same policy at issue when the committee was formed last fall.

At the time, a high school teacher refused to use a student’s preferred name or pronouns, citing religious freedom. Biology teacher Daren Cusato said that affirming a nonbinary or transgender student’s identity is compelled speech that “blasphemes God by calling something that he did, wrong.”

The Education Law Center, a Philadelphia-based legal advocacy group, said it received inquiries from concerned parents before the meeting. The organization sent the district a letter urging stronger protections for LGBTQ+ students.

Weiss said that community members, including alumni, also reached out to the district with concerns after the religious committee meeting. Some of those alumni then began organizing to help support LGBTQ+ students.

Laila Cronin graduated in 2022 and said the board’s move is a positive sign. But she said the committee should have never existed.

“It just became a place for the bigoted members of the community to get together to listen to their opinions,” she said. “There was no need for any kind of ‘debate’ in the first place because all that matters is the LGBT students being respected.”

But now that the committee has run its course, she also doesn’t want district leaders to move on completely.

“Hopefully all of this won’t get shoved under the rug and forgotten about,” she said. “The LGBT students still exist and need to be protected and listened to, not only when it’s a hot topic of the community.”