Equal Educational Opportunities — Transgender Students

Just before the start of the 2016-17 school year, I shared some direction with our district leaders regarding transgender students. My email to them, below, followed the release of guidelines from the President via the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice. Last week, the new President rescinded those guidelines. This rapid change in direction from the federal government can cause confusion for our staff, students, and families, so I feel it is important to share how City Schools of Decatur addresses the needs of students related to gender identity.

The Board policy referenced below was in place prior to the guidance issued last year and remains in place today. In fact, that Board policy has included protections for transgender students for at least 10 years. In response to the initial federal guidance, Governor Deal stated that, “Georgia’s constitution and state laws . . . require these decisions be made at the local level.” He went on to say, “. . . our 181 school systems must each determine an appropriate response . . . .” As mentioned in the most recent “dear colleague” letter, “the [U.S.] Departments [of Education and Justice] believe that, in this context, there must be due regard for the primary role of the States and local school districts in establishing educational policy.”

CSD strives to be a school district that embraces our differences and recognizes the value diversity brings to our school community. While history shows we have not always treated students equitably, like most (if not all) school systems, we are confronting that past, learning from it, and moving forward. Our conversations about disproportionality this year are one example of our willingness to tackle these issues head on, for the betterment of all. The rights of transgender students, addressed in the email below, are another example.

From: David Dude
Date: Jul 26, 2016 11:03 AM
Subject: Equal Educational Opportunities (Policy JAA) Guidance
To: Superintendent’s Staff

Good morning,

As we head into the new school year I want to ensure we are all on the same page regarding equal educational opportunities for our students; especially as it relates to gender identity. This has been a frequently discussed topic in education circles ever since the “Dear Colleague” letter issued by the USDOE and USDOJ (see attached). As I’m sure you know, our Board policy JAA states that we do not discriminate on the basis of … gender identity (among other things). To be clear, here are some examples of situations related to gender identity and how I expect them to be handled in compliance with this policy. For purpose of these examples, assume this student was assigned the sex of male at birth and now identifies as female.

  • This student should be treated the same as any other female student.
  • She should not be identified as anything other than female.
  • She should be addressed with female pronouns.
  • She should be allowed to use the female restroom.
  • She should be allowed to use the female locker room.
  • She should be allowed to try out for “female” sports.
  • She should be allowed to room with other females on field trips.

In evaluating a particular circumstance, I encourage you to consider questions and statements regarding transgender students from the perspective of other groups for which our country has struggled with civil rights (and still does). For instance, if asking yourself, Should I allow this transgender student to use this restroom?, consider replacing “transgender” with “black,” “disabled,” or “low income” and the answer becomes clear (in case it wasn’t before). Should I allow this black/disabled/low income student to use this restroom? Yes! Of course. The answer is obvious.

We are forming a task force to review and suggest improvements to our equal educational opportunities policy, review and suggest improvements to associated rules, processes, and procedures, and make recommendations for any other improvements we need to make in relation to that topic. We will also want to have further discussions at the Board table. Obviously that will take some time to work through.

In the meantime, continue supporting ALL of our students as I know you do. For example, if a student experiences anxiety related to bathroom or locker room facilities–whether the student is transgender, cisgender, or something else–offer the student a more suitable option. These students are all OUR KIDS and I know you will continue supporting them as such.

Clearly this is much more complex than a single email can cover, and it is critical to work closely with our students and families on challenges and opportunities before, during, and after a student transitions. We will continue having conversations and professional learning regarding this area. However, as the school year is about to begin and given that this work will take some time, I wanted to ensure I was clear as to how I interpret this policy.

Principals, please determine the best way to ensure all of your faculty and staff are also up to speed on this, and please ensure you do so with fidelity to the interpretations I have shared here.

As always, please don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions or concerns.

Sincerely,
David

photo Dr. David Dude
Superintendent, City Schools of Decatur
404-371-3601 | ddude [at] csdecatur.net | http://www.csdecatur.net | 125 Electric Ave, Decatur, GA 30030
  

The task force mentioned in the email took some time to get going, but is now underway. I look forward to receiving their recommendations. In the meantime, we will continue to serve all of #OurKids as best we can, while continually striving to improve in everything we do.

Students or families with questions, comments, or concerns related to any of the above should feel free to contact their school counselor or a school administrator for assistance.

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