SOUTH BRUNSWICK, NJ – The school district will comply with a federal “guidance” regarding transgender polices released by the Obama administration last week, officials said.
Acting Superintendent Richard Chromey said the district will follow the guidelines set out by the U.S. departments of Education and Justice last Friday, that aim to make transgender students more comfortable in the nation’s elementary, secondary public schools and colleges.
“Our district has had longstanding success in accommodating our transgender students,” Chromey said in a telephone interview Monday afternoon. “Over the last couple of years we have worked successfully with our transgender students and their families to address any bathroom issues.”
According to the document, sent last Friday to all schools in the nation receiving federal aid, civil rights protections are given to transgender and students identifying outside of their birth genders as part of 1972’s Title IX legislation.
That law sought to prohibit discrimination based on race, sexual preference or gender by making sure students had access to equal programs and facilities, such as in sports.
Recently, however, the issue of transgender students using bathrooms that may not align with their birth sex has raised debates and lawsuits nationally.
North Carolina passed a law prohibiting people from using restrooms that did not align with their birth-generated sex, causing a countersuit by the U.S. Department of Justice alleging civil rights violations with U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch comparing it to the racially charged “Jim Crow” laws that segregated whites and blacks from using the same facilities like restrooms, drinking fountains and other accommodations until the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
“This prohibition encompasses discrimination based on a student’s transgender identity,” the letter states.
The letter identifies transgender students as those “whose gender identity is different from the sex they were assigned at birth.”
The letter states that schools receiving federal assistance need to agree to “not exclude, separate, deny benefits to or otherwise treat differently” any person on the basis of sex from its programs or activities.
According to the document, a student or their parent or guardian notifies the school’s administrator that the student plans to “assert a gender identity that differs from previous representations or records” and the school will then treat the student consistent with the student’s chosen gender identity.
No other documentation or diagnosis of a medical professional is required, according to the letter.
Demanding other proof, the letter said, may violate Title IX and could result in federal funds being withheld from the school.
These accommodations must take place “even in circumstances in which other students, parents, or community members raise objections or concerns.”
“As is consistently recognized in civil rights cases, the desire to accommodate others’ discomfort cannot justify a policy that singles out and disadvantages a particular class of students,” the letter states.
The “significant guidance” provided in the letter seeks to provide a “safe and nondiscriminatory environment for all students,” it said.
While restrooms were the initial point of contention for the action, the letter also addresses pronouns used in gender identity, locker rooms, athletics, overnight stays and housing as well as “other sex specific activities.”
The letter was accompanied by a May 2016 comparison of various policies enacted by school districts throughout the country, showing how the issues are being addressed nationwide.
Chromey said the district would do its best to comply with the edict and that the Board of Education would review the letter and materials to see what policies would need to be created or updated.
He also said the district would look to the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJISAA) to see what impact it would have on athletic programs.
“I’m sure (the NJISAA) will come up with any ramifications to go with that,” he said. “As a district, we will, once we have a chance to look at it, will see over the summer what policy and procedures need to be put in place.”
Although the guidance applies to all elementary and middle schools in the district as well, Chromey said it is “mainly a high school matter” and that he has faith it will address any issues appropriately.
He also said that the district’s transgender population only represents a small percentage of the almost 9,000 students.
According to Business Administrator Anthony Tonzini, the district is planning on getting about $2.2 million in federal aid in the 2016-17 budget year.
The district passed its $148 million spending plan earlier this year.
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