School Considerations

Working with Your Child’s School

Each and every parent who has a significantly gender nonconforming or transgender student will have to work closely with their child’s school to ensure the child’s physical and emotional safety. At present, it is not common practice for educators to receive any training about gender diversity. You will need to be proactive. You cannot assume that schools with general anti-bullying policies will be responsive to the needs of your child if they are being treated poorly due to their gender expression or identity.

The good news is that resources exist to help schools meet their legal and ethical obligations with regard to your child’s safety. Gender Spectrum does extensive work helping school systems become more inclusive of gender diversity. As parents, an important first step is to enlist your school in support of your child. The vast majority of educators are interested in the well being of the students and families they serve. However, most have little or no training about working with gender diverse children. It may be that you will need to help them by providing resources, materials, and examples of other schools that have successfully met the needs of gender diverse students.

Safety in Schools

A fundamental responsibility of your child’s school is to ensure the safety of all children. Your child’s gender identity or expression in no way excuses mistreatment by other students, staff or parents. While it is important to work in partnership with the school, your child’s physical safety is non-negotiable. School districts and individual school administrators can be held liable under various federal, state and local laws for failing to protect students from harassment based on gender identity. From the beginning, if you believe your child is being mistreated based on gender, document those concerns and share them with the school leader. Make it clear that while you wish to work with the school, you will take whatever steps necessary to keep your child safe.

Bullying

It is well documented that a safe environment optimizes a child’s ability to learn. A child cannot effectively learn when they live in fear of discrimination. All children, including gender diverse and transgender children, deserve a safe school environment free from bullying, teasing and violence, and it is the school’s legal responsibility to maintain that environment.

Bullying can take the form of one or more students directly teasing, taunting, or threatening another. Bullying comes in other, more indirect forms as well. A student may experience intentional social isolation perpetrated by their peers, and sometimes even reinforced by teachers and/or administration. Bullying is a serious problem for any student. Most schools recognize this fact, and many are adopting programs and policies to create environments that do not allow or tolerate bullying.

Your school may not specifically name gender expression or gender identity as reasons for bullying, but it does not mean that they will not respond proactively. Further education about gender diversity is often needed for teachers and school administrators to respond most effectively. Gender Spectrum provides a number of resources to help schools create the conditions necessary for a safe campus climate.

Other School Issues

Along with a child’s general safety and well-being, there are several specific areas that will require your attention. These include how your child will be referred to (name and pronouns), how privacy will be ensured, the restrooms and, if necessary, changing rooms that will be used, and expectations for participation in extra-curricular activities such as sports or clubs. Many of these topics are enumerated in the California Safe Schools Coalition’s model policy for transgender and gender nonconforming students. This policy addresses the key areas that such policies must account for to ensure the safety of their gender nonconforming students. In addition, Gender Spectrum has written a Model Policy FAQ that helps school leaders implement the ideas mentioned in the model policy.

 
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