At its public meeting on December 15, The Board of Education unanimously voted to approve a district policy toward transgender and gender nonconforming students.
Most students never give a second thought to using the bathroom at school; it’s something the majority of us do every day. However, commonplace activities for which a binary gender must be identified such as using the restroom and changing for gym class can be daily struggles for PHS’s transgender and gender nonconforming population.
At the meeting, The Board considered a proposal regarding the district’s policy toward transgender and gender nonconforming students. “This policy establishes the board’s expectations for addressing the needs of transgender students in compliance with applicable anti-discrimination laws,” the policy states.
According to this policy, transgender is defined as “a term for people whose gender identity, expression or behavior is different from those typically associated with their assigned sex at birth.” Gender nonconforming is defined as “displaying gender traits that are not consistent with stereotypical characteristics associated with one’s legal sex assigned at birth, or others’ perceptions of that sex.”
According to Board President Andrea Spalla, the policy does not introduce any new practices; rather, the purpose is to concretely establish the district’s stance and procedure toward transgender and nonconforming students. “The proposed policy reflects the practices that our high school staff have had in place for years, as handled on a case-by-case basis,” Spalla wrote in an email. “Thus, the proposed policy does not depart from current practices, nor does it impose any new practices.”
The creation of the proposal was spurred in part by increasing interactions between transgender students and the PPS administration. “In the past years, [trans] students have been going to the administration looking for changes in things like bathroom policy or records,” said Gender and Sexuality Alliance President Nora Aguiar ’17. “I guess it caught the board’s attention that there is a whole demographic to whom they have to pay attention. They are a part of the school system that need to be recognized.”
The document states that there is no diagnosis of any kind needed for district recognition of a person’s gender identity.
The policy also includes a confidentiality agreement that encompasses the student’s parents. “The board recognizes that some transgender students have not disclosed their transgender status to their parents. Whenever possible, PPS staff members should speak with the student to confirm the manner in which the student will be referred to in conversation with the parent/guardian.”
If a student wishes to change their name or gender in the school records, that student must make changes in a court first. “When a student or parent/legal guardian presents the school with documentation of a court-ordered legal name and/or gender change, the district will modify its official records to reflect the student’s new legal name and gender,” the document said.
However, faculty will recognize a student’s gender identity and preferred pronouns regardless of what is on official records.
The policy also allows for separate restrooms for male and female students to be maintained, and for all students to have access to the restroom that corresponds to their gender identity. Any gender-neutral bathrooms in the school would also be available to all for use. “A single stall, ‘gender-neutral’ restroom (such as in the health office) may be used by any student who desires increased privacy, regardless of the underlying reason … No student shall be compelled to use such a restroom,” the document states.
However, there are concerns with cisgender people taking advantage of this choice leniency. “[The policy] is a great start, but there are ways to make it better, considering the fact that some people will abuse that idea [of restroom choice]. For example, if there is a male saying that they are a female, it could [cause problems],” said Janki Raythattha ’19.
Other students were concerned for actual trans people getting bullied for using the bathroom of their gender identity. “Letting kids enter whichever restroom they want is morally correct, and it should be happening. But realistically, the only issue is that if someone sees someone who looks like a girl in the boy’s bathroom, it could cause problems. [Trans] people could be scared. They might get bullied,” said Jay Manchiraju ’18.
Still others were concerned about cisgender students’ comfort in the restroom with transgender students present. “People who are not transgender might feel uncomfortable about [trans people using the restroom], so I think that [the policy] would not be a good idea,” said Charlene Peng ’18.
In terms of athletics, “Transgender students shall be permitted to participate in physical education classes, intramural sports, and competitive athletic activities in a manner consistent with their gender identity,” the policy states.
Students seem to be more accepting of transgender people participating in athletics. “[Trans people] should be able to do whatever they want because sports are not very gender-based,” Manchiraju said.
School principals will also be expected to destigmatize the use of gender-neutral bathrooms and communicate clear guidelines to staff and students with regards to students’ privacy and boundaries.
Lydia Duff ’16 thinks that this portion of the policy is crucial to its success. “I think that as long as people are made aware that the policy is taking effect … I think there would be no hate [toward trans people].”
The board has received a couple of complaints from parents regarding this policy. “I realize that even in a town as progressive as ours, many people don’t realize that we have transgender students in our schools. Some adults may believe that for these students, their gender identification and process of transition is just a phase,” Spalla wrote. “But what our PHS staff members know, and adolescent health experts around the country agree with, is that for a teenage transgender student, respectful recognition of their sincerely held gender identity is crucial to their well-being and ability to thrive.”