Palo Alto School District Eyes New Gender-Identity Policy – Nov 6, 2015

 by Elena Kadvany / Palo Alto Weekly

     Fri, Nov 6, 2015

The Palo Alto school board will discuss next week a new policy aimed at ensuring the protection of the rights of transgender and gender non-conforming students.

The proposed policy, titled “Gender Identity and Access,” seeks to “promote the healthy development and safety of all students including transgender students by maximizing inclusion and social integration while minimizing exclusion and stigmatization,” the policy reads.

The policy is the product of more than two years of work by the district’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Questioning (LGBTQQ) committee, which is made up of administrators, staff, teachers, parents, students and representatives from local community organizations such as Outlet, a LGBTQQ+ program at Adolescent Counseling Services.

The committee crafted the policy based on state and federal law as well as other school districts’ policies, drawing primarily from the Berkeley Unified School District. The Berkeley school board passed its policy in late 2013.

The San Francisco Unified School District adopted a transgender policy more than a decade ago. The Los Angeles Unified School District adopted a policy in 2005.

In June 2014, the Palo Alto Unified did adopt a new administrative regulation following the passage of AB1266, a California law that ensures transgender students have access to facilities and activities based on their gender identity.

The administrative regulation on nondiscrimination/harassment outlines several rights for transgender and gender non-conforming students — the right to privacy as well as support during a social transition at school, to determine their own gender identity, to access facilities and activities based on their gender, to change their name and pronouns in student records and to have district staff address them by their preferred name and pronouns.

The LGBTQQ committee has been working since before the passage of AB1266 to develop a policy that is more comprehensive and inclusive than this administrative regulation, particularly to protect students who identify as non-binary, defined in the proposed policy as “an individual whose gender identity or gender expression falls outside or in between the category of male or female.”

The school board’s policy-review committee, chaired by Vice President Heidi Emberling, considered the new policy in September and heard from parents of transgender children. One parent, who serves on the LGBTQQ committee, cited the results of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network’s 2013 National School Climate Survey in advocating for the new policy. The survey found that LGBTQQ students in schools with a policy that “specifically enumerates both sexual orientation and gender identity and expression” were less likely to hear negative remarks about gender expression — 41.7 percent compared to 57.6 percent of students who attend schools with a generic policy. Students at schools with a comprehensive policy were also more likely to report that staff intervenes when hearing homophobic remarks, the parent noted.

Although a majority of students surveyed had an anti-bullying policy at their school, only 10 percent reported that their school had a comprehensive policy in place.

The proposed policy requires schools to accept a student’s “asserted gender identity” and call them by their preferred name and pronouns. The National Climate Survey found that 42 percent of transgender students had been prevented from using their preferred name.

Under the new policy, schools would not be allowed to request any medical or mental health diagnosis or require a treatment plan to have a student’s gender identity recognized. Students are also not required to give their schools a court-ordered name or gender change in order to have their requested name and gender identity recognized.

The school district in September implemented a change within its online student information system, Infinite Campus, to include new fields to differentiate between legal name and gender and preferred name and gender.

Yet even when names and pronouns are changed in school records, there are other areas where legal names and genders might appear and potentially “out” students, the policy notes: “pre-printed labels, standardized tests, student IDs or library cards, lunch tickets, school photos, notices from the main office, attendance slips, grade books, posted lists of student names, lesson plans, seating charts and roll sheets used by substitute teachers, and any other places where students’ names are commonly written.”

Under the new policy, the district would maintain an official, permanent student record with the student’s legal name and gender that appears on the student’s birth certificate. The policy urges schools to keep this record in a secure location to protect student privacy. If a student or parent presents the school with documentation of a court-ordered legal name and/or gender change, the school must then change the official student record in a timely manner, according to the policy.

Schools would also be required to honor transgender students who transition after graduation and to change their diploma or transcript to their current name and gender.

The policy also instructs school personnel to not accidentally “out” students who might not be out in other settings or with their parents.

“Care must be taken to protect student privacy,” the proposed policy reads. “School personnel should not assume that a student who is ‘out’ in some contexts (e.g. within a classroom) is ‘out’ everywhere (e.g., on a sports team). School personnel should also not assume that a student who is ‘out’ now (e.g. in middle school) would still want to be ‘out’ in the future (e.g. high school).” (Read: [On privacy, early intervention and medical advances

The policy also urges schools to avoid separating students by gender in the classroom and other activities, like the formation of teams in physical education class or selecting dance partners.

The parents in attendance at the board policy meeting in September urged board members to think about the policy as a way to systemically require more proactive provision of accommodations for transgender and gender non-conforming students — and as a first step toward further education and training around LGBTQQ issues.

“This policy is important, but it’s only a piece of what’s needed to create a safe environment for our LGBTQQ students,” the parent of the transgender elementary-aged student said.

Members of the LGBTQQ committee have said one of their priorities this year will be to advocate for enhanced teacher and staff training and the introduction of more LGBTQQ-specific curriculum in Palo Alto Unified.

The LGBTQQ committee is also developing a resource guide for the community with additional information and guidance for parents on how to answer students’ questions around these issues.

Emberling and Ken Dauber, who also serves on the board policy committee, responded positively to the draft policy in September.

What the policy makes clear, Dauber said, is a “fundamental commitment to nondiscrimination and non-harassment.

“One of the concerns that I’ve heard expressed is that, absent this kind of guidance, we get into a discussion about balancing where balancing isn’t appropriate because we’re talking about the rights of children to an education free of discrimination.”

Wendy He, the board policy review committee’s new parent liaison, asked how the district would plan to disseminate such a policy — along with the proper education that other parents in the community might need to fully understand it.

“If I were not in this meeting I would probably very much not understand and be against it immediately,” she said. “It takes education.”

Superintendent Max McGee suggested asking the PTA Council to distribute the policy, if approved, to parents. McGee said he planned to discuss the topic with both high school faculties at a professional development day in October.

“We’re also talking about a culture change that needs to happen across the community and that’s not easy,” said Brenda Carrillo, the district’s director of student services and chair of the LGBTQQ committee. “The education piece will be very important not only within our staff and for our students but for all parents to have those really important conversations, I think, is something we’re going to have to put some thought into.”