Schools offer lessons on accommodating transgender students

From locker rooms and sex education classes to dress codes and overnight field trips, many US public schools already are balancing the civil rights of transgender students with any concerns that classmates, parents and community members might have.

PTI| Last Updated: May 14, 2016, 22:30 PM IST

San Francisco: From locker rooms and sex education classes to dress codes and overnight field trips, many US public schools already are balancing the civil rights of transgender students with any concerns that classmates, parents and community members might have.

The US Department of Education is drawing on those practices to guide other schools as they work to comply with the Obama administration's directive that transitioning children be treated consistent with their gender identity.

That has been the policy since 2013 of the Arcadia Unified School District in Southern California. As part of a settlement with the federal departments of Justice and Education that became the foundation for the national mandate issued on Friday, students may use the bathroom, locker room or wilderness cabin that corresponds with their recognized gender outside school, Superintendent David Vannasdall said.

"This is absolutely not about a student on a day-to-day basis saying, 'Today I'm a boy, tomorrow I'm a girl.' That has never happened," Vannasdall said.

"By the time these students are at a point where they are asking for our help, they are presenting in all areas of their life as that gender."

The administration had warned schools before Friday that denying transgender students access to the correct facilities and activities was illegal under its interpretation of federal sex discrimination laws. But the new guidance, for the first time, offers advice for accommodating the privacy needs of nontransgender youngsters.

Citing guidelines adopted by Washington, New York, the District of Columbia and Atherton High School in Louisville, Kentucky, President Barack Obama's Education Department said schools could erect privacy curtains in changing areas, permit all students to make use of single-stall restrooms or work out other case-by-case arrangements as long as the burden doesn't rest exclusively on transgender students.

"The concerns for right to privacy and safety of children applies to every single child, including the transgender child," said Atherton's principal, Thomas Aberli, who faced community opposition when he first allowed a transgender freshman to use the girls' restrooms two years ago. Since that first student, about a half-dozen more have come out as transgender, Aberli said.