Students in Bristol Warren are free to assert whichever gender they identity with, dress how the please within the parameters of the school district dress code, play sports with teammates of the same gender, and use whichever restroom or locker room conforms to their gender.
While these freedoms may seem fairly obvious to most, some school districts in the country have made headlines recently for discriminating against transgender or transitioning students by barring them from using the restrooms that conform to their gender and otherwise preventing them from living as the gender with which they identify. In Bristol Warren, those freedoms have always existed for students, and the Regional School Committee made them official Monday night.
The committee adopted a new Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Policy Monday, to affirm the district’s commitment “to ensuring a safe and supportive learning environment for all students,” and “foster an educational environment that is safe and free from discrimination for all students, regardless of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.”
The policy specifically asserts that students are free to use the restroom and locker room that conforms to their gender identity, regardless of what their gender was at birth. Bathroom choice has made national headlines recently, especially after the state of North Carolina passed a “bathroom bill” last year that requires people to use the restroom that matches the gender listed on their birth certificates, regardless of which gender they actually are.
“Transgender or gender nonconforming students shall be assured of their right to use any locker room or restroom that aligns with their gender identity,” the policy reads. “A transgender student shall not be required to use a locker room or restroom that conflicts with the student’s gender identity, nor shall a transgender student be mandated to use a particular restroom or locker room. Reasonable alternative arrangements may include the use of a private area, or a separate changing schedule, or use of a single stall restroom. Any alternative arrangement should be provided in a way that protects the student’s ability to keep his or her transgender status confidential if he or she so chooses.”
The policy goes beyond bathrooms, assuring students they are welcome to participate in sex-segregated classes like physical education according to their gender identity, dress in a manner appropriate to their gender, and be referred to by teachers and fellow students as “he” or “she,” as is appropriate to their stated gender. The policy guarantees students will not be barred from school activities like dances, yearbook photo shoots or graduation ceremonies “for appearing or behaving in a manner that is consistent with their gender identity or that does not conform with stereotypical notions of masculinity and femininity.”
Some School Committee members pointed out that such freedoms are already afforded all students in the district, even in the absence of an official policy. Still, in light of current national politics, it’s important to officially state the school district’s protection of transgender rights, according to School Committee member Adam Ramos.
“There has been a shift in the motivating forces that were behind this policy in the first place. There was a time when the federal government said that all school districts should create this policy, but it was rescinded,” Mr. Ramos said. “Because it was rescinded, it’s even more important that we adopt this policy now. We need to make sure students are not mistreated.”
The School Committee passed the resolution 6-1, with Marjorie McBride dissenting not because she doesn’t support transgender rights, she said, but because she doesn’t believe the policy’s language is effective enough
“I think it’s really important that we recognize our students and who they choose to be, but this proposal is too broad,” Ms. McBride said. “I don’t think this policy gets it done.”
School Committee member Erin Schofield, whose subcommittee led the drafting of the nine-page policy, said the length was necessary to define the complicated terms involved, like “gender expression, gender identity, gender nonconforming,” etc.
“We felt there was a real need to have things like definition of terms in the policy. It’s a little bit more involved,” Ms. Schofield said. “After much editing, much thoughtful consideration, it is a policy that is really protective of transgender, non-conforming students, and that’s what’s important.”
The complete Transgender Student Policy reads:
The purpose of this protocol is to ensure that the Bristol Warren Regional School District (BWRSD) is in full compliance with the following:
The BWRSD is committed to ensuring a safe and supportive learning environment for all students. It is committed to ensuring that all educational professionals and other school staff be supportive role models and strong advocates for the safety and well-being of students. All students need a safe and supportive school environment to progress academically and developmentally. Therefore, this policy shall:
Protocols for Students Who Identify as Transitioning, Transgender and Gender Nonconforming:
If a gender identity issue is presenting itself and creating challenges for a student at school, or if a student or parent(s)/guardian(s) of a student indicates an intention on behalf of the student to transition, the school should make every effort to work with the student and the child’s parent(s)/guardian(s) to put in place measures for supporting the child and creating a sensitive, supportive environment at school.
These situations must be addressed on a case-by-case basis and require schools to balance the goal of supporting the student with the desire that parents be kept informed about their children. In these circumstances, school administration should ask the Superintendent for direction on how to proceed. If the administration determines that notifying the family carries risks for the student, it should work closely with the student to assess the degree to which, if any, the family will be involved in the process and must consider the age, health, well-being and safety of the student.
School personnel shall not disclose information that may reveal a student’s transgender status, unless legally required to do so or unless the student has authorized such disclosure.
Under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), only those school employees with a legitimate educational need should have access to a student’s records or other information contained in those records. Disclosing confidential student information to other employees, students, parents, or other third parties may violate privacy laws, including but not limited to FERPA.
A student’s transgender or gender nonconforming status may constitute confidential medical information. Therefore, only certified school nurse teachers and other licensed professionals shall be given access to accurate and reliable information to confirm a student’s identity in order to ensure that the student receives appropriate care and to enable them to coordinate care with other health care providers or licensed professionals, as well as to file health insurance claims.
To the extent that the school is not legally required to use a student’s legal name or gender on school records and other documents, the school shall use the name and gender preferred by the student.
Records that legally require the use of a student’s legal name and gender shall be changed to reflect a change in legal name or gender only upon receipt of documentation that such legal name and/or gender have been changed pursuant to applicable law.
In situations where school staff or administrators are required by law to use or report a transgender student’s legal name or gender, school staff and administrators shall adopt practices to avoid the inadvertent disclosure of such confidential information. These practices shall be shared with students and their parent(s) and/or guardian(s).
With respect to directory information, students shall be assured that the BWRSD shall not designate a student’s sex, including transgender status as directory information under FERPA, because doing so could be a harmful invasion of privacy.
Schools may enforce dress code pursuant to School Committee policy. Students shall have the right to dress in accordance with their gender identity, within the parameters of the dress code adopted by the School Committee. School staff shall not enforce a dress code more strictly against transgender or gender nonconforming students than other students. Dress codes shall be general statements that ensure the proper dress for all students.
All students are entitled to have access to restrooms, locker rooms and changing facilities that are sanitary, safe and adequate, so that they can comfortably and fully engage in their school programs and activities. Transgender or gender nonconforming students shall be assured of their right to use any locker room or restroom that aligns with their gender identity. A transgender student shall not be required to use a locker room or restroom that conflicts with the student’s gender identity, nor shall a transgender student be mandated to use a particular restroom or locker room.
Reasonable alternative arrangements may include the use of a private area, or a separate changing schedule, or use of a single stall restroom. Any alternative arrangement for a transgender, gender nonconforming or transitioning student should be provided in a way that protects the student’s ability to keep his or her transgender status confidential if he or she so chooses.
With respect to interscholastic athletics, if the student desires to participate in an interscholastic sport, that student shall be provided with a copy of the Rhode Island Interscholastic League’s policy on “Gender Identity Participation.” If the student so desires, develop a plan for a school administrator or athletic director to contact the Rhode Island Interscholastic League (RIIL) to start the gender identity eligibility appeal process pursuant to RIIL Policy.
The School Committee shall evaluate all gender-based policies, rules and practices and maintain only those that have a clear and sound pedagogical purpose. The School Committee shall consider alternatives to said policies, rules and practices.
As a general rule, in any other circumstances where students are separated by gender in school activities (i.e. overnight field trips), students should be permitted to participate in accordance with their gender identity consistently asserted at school. Alternate accommodations should be made available to the extent possible for transgender or gender nonconforming students if requested by the student.
In the event that a transgender or gender nonconforming student alleges that he or she has been the victim of bullying/harassment, the bullying/harassment shall be documented and formally addressed by investigation in accordance with the District’s Harassment Policy.
In addition, if sex-based harassment is based on gender identity, transgender status, gender nonconforming status or gender transition creates a hostile environment, the school shall put a plan in place to take prompt and effective steps to end harassment, prevent its recurrence, and, as appropriate, remedy its effects. (A school’s failure to treat students consistent with their gender identity may create or contribute to a hostile environment in violation of Title IX.)
School Records of Former Students
Requests from former students to change their name and gender on school records shall be handled in the same manner as current students. To the extent that the BWRSD is not legally required to use a former student’s legal name or gender on school records and other documents, the BWRSD shall use the name and gender preferred by the former student.
Records that legally require the use of a former student’s legal name and gender, shall be changed to reflect a change in legal name or gender only upon receipt of documentation that such legal name and/or gender have been changed pursuant to applicable law.
Education and Training
In order to foster a safe and supportive school environment for all students, the BWRSD shall incorporate education and training about transgender and gender nonconforming students into its anti-bullying curriculum, health curriculum, student leadership trainings and staff professional development.
Staff professional development shall include, but not be limited to:
Communication with School Community
Superintendents and principals shall review existing policies, handbooks and other written materials to ensure that they reflect the inclusion of gender identity/expression in the anti-discrimination policy statements as appropriate prior to the start of the school year. Schools shall inform all members of the school community, including school personnel, students, and families, about the federal and state law concerning transgender and gender nonconforming youth along with implications for school policy and practice.