NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ – The Board of Education (BOE) tackled the “tricky” issue of formulating a district policy for transgender students at its Thursday, March 16 meeting. According to Scott Hough, Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services, the policy draft is modeled based on the state law and other school districts policies.
Board President Adam Smith opened the discussion explaining the importance of having the policy in place despite the fact that the district doesn’t have a transgender case at hand. He noted that “almost every other district” in New Jersey has a transgender policy. The district has to comply with the legal requirements and provide a safe learning environment for all students, he explained. The policy, once in place, provides the administration with a framework on how to handle a transgender situation if and when such a case occurs.
Smith welcomed “an open and frank discussion” on the subject noting that some people are more comfortable in dealing with the issue than others. He acknowledged the trickiness of transgender policies when it comes to bathroom and locker room use as well as sports participation.
Hough explained that the student doesn’t have to be medically transitioning to an opposite sex in order to be considered transgender. Gender identity and gender expression are qualified characteristics for accommodations. The school has to accommodate the transgender student according to that student’s wishes. For example, it is up to the student to decide whether he or she wants to use a bathroom of his or her birth sex or the one he or she identifies with. The student may also choose to use a gender neutral bathroom.
The bulk of the board’s discussion focused on parent notification practices. Hough explained that according to “best practices” parents will be involved in the accommodations requested by a transgender student. However, some board members were concerned that sometimes the student may come to the administration to request accommodations, but asks that his or her transgender identity or transgender expression not be revealed his or her parents. The board noted that the best interest of the student must be taken into account. The board pondered the right approach when it comes to the student’s safety, confidentiality and parents’ right to know. The policy will set guidelines for parent notification as a default unless the safety of the students cannot be guaranteed.
Hugh explained that the schools cannot prohibit a transgender student to use a bathroom of his or her choice by law. The same situation applies to the locker rooms as well. When it comes to a transgender student participating in interscholastic sports, the student’s or school’s assertion is not enough. The New Jersey Interscholastic Athletics Association (NJSIAA), which oversees most part of high school sports, has its own set of policies in determining the student athlete’s placement on a team corresponding to his or her gender identity or gender expression.
The district policy, once adopted, will also include guidelines for official student record keeping and proper pronoun usage. The board will also have to deal with gender segregation situations that may occur during field trips.
Superintendent David Miceli also noted that the case studies have shown that transgender situations occur at all school stages – in elementary, middle and high schools. He emphasized the importance of a policy especially for the staff members who are in “the front line” dealing with students.
Miceli suggested that the transgender draft policy be discussed again before the final version is placed on the agenda for voting.