BEAVER COUNTY, Pa. — More than 400 people packed into the auditorium at South Side Area School District in Beaver County Wednesday evening.
The majority were there in support of biology and anatomy teacher Daren Cusato. Cusato was suspended last week after refusing to refer to transgender students by their preferred pronouns, citing religious beliefs.
More than 40 people spoke at the meeting, most of them in support of Cusato’s reinstatement.
“My uncle Daren is standing up for what is right, even though he is standing by himself. I am thoroughly embarrassed that South Side School District has taken this arbitrary stance in choosing to align with the one percent,” his niece said.
“I am standing up here tonight to ask you to separate these two things: the very divisive but trendy topic of pronouns and the precedent that you are setting, which is that teachers need to modify their engagement of students based on how that student feels,” another said.
One woman derided the district for acting in what she perceived to be a fear of “getting sued.”
“We shouldn’t be afraid of being sued. Fine. If you want to sue us, sue us. Let’s take it to the Supreme Court. Let’s take it all the way,” she said.
Others stood for the school’s decision.
“Transgender students have a right to be identified by their chosen name, their pronouns. School staff must use that name,” one woman said.
Another focused on the popularity of Cusato, telling the board it shouldn’t matter in the decision-making process.
“If we allow a teacher, particularly one with a highly-regarded reputation, to model that these children don’t deserve acknowledgement of who they are, then the children we are trying to protect are in even greater danger,” she said.
In the end, the majority got their wish. The district reinstated Cusato and suspended the policy that students must be referred to by their chosen pronouns.
The board plans to write a new policy on the subject at a future meeting.
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