Trans students attending New York public schools should be referred to by their preferred name and pronoun, according to guidance reissued by the state’s Attorney General this week.
After the U.S. Department of Education announced it would stop investigating discrimination complaints against trans students regarding restroom use, N.Y. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sent a memo to educators reminding them of their “obligations” to protect all students “under state and federal law.”
“Regardless of what happens in Washington, the law remains the law in New Yorkand school districts have independent duties to protect transgender students from discrimination and harassment when they go to school,” Schneiderman claimed in a Feb. 28 letter.
Earlier the same month, the White House announced that preventing trans students from using bathrooms consistent with their gender identity would no longer be considered discrimination under federal law. That announcement broke with the Obama administration’s interpretation of Title IX under the Education Amendments of 1972which forbids bias on the basis of race, religion, sex, and national originas inclusive of gender identity.
“Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, not gender identity,” Education Department spokeswoman Liz Hill claimed in a statement.
New York officials claimed the current administration’s rollback of LGBTQ rights would further serve to compound the discrimination trans students already face in schools. Seventy-four percent of queer and transgender students report being bullied or targeted by other students for violence, and trans youth face the highest risk for violence or harassment.
Trans and gender nonconforming students are “twice as likely to report feeling unsafe at school than their cisgender peers,” the State Education Department claimed in a July 2015 report.
“No child should endure harassment or discrimination and we must create learning environments that are safe and welcoming for all,” claimed State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia in a statement. “Statistics show that transgender youth are particularly at risk, with more than half of these students attempting suicide at least once by their 20th birthday.”
“We need to offer further support to these children and not turn our backs on those most in need,” Elia continued.
The New York State guidance, first issued three years ago, advises K-12 teachers and staff to follow the lead of transgender youthor their parentswhen it comes to name and pronoun use. All students are permitted to use the restroom, locker room, and changing area which corresponds with their gender identity and to participate in sex-segregated classes in a manner consistent with their lived gender expression (e.g., physical education).
“Alternative accommodations, such as a single ‘unisex’ bathroom or private changing space, should be made available to students who request them, but should never be forced upon students, nor presented as the only option,” the 10-page document claims.
“The person best situated to determine a student’s gender identity is the individual student,” it adds.
The guidance also offers a list of key terminology for faculty to familiarize themselves with. Terms include “cisgender,” “gender expression,” “gender identity,” “gender nonconforming,” “sexual orientation,” “transgender,” and “transitioning.”
In addition to offering its list of best practices to schools, New York has taken several steps in recent years to better support the needs of LGBTQ students.
Jared Fox became the first-ever community liaison for New York City public schools in 2016, and Kimberly Shannon came on as the district’s first gender-equity coordinator a year later. When the White House announced it would be revoking Obama-era guidance for trans students last year, NYC schools claimed trans students would continue to be protected.
“It’s about a safe, supportive and inclusive learning environment,” Fox told New York Daily News last year. “It’s really hard to concentrate on English or math or social studies when you don’t feel like you belong.”
Meanwhile, the Trump administration has dismissed 15 out of 19 discrimination complaints brought forward by trans students in the past year.
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