Area schools continue to ensure that all students are free from bullying and harassment in general. However, protecting transgender students from discrimination and meeting their needs often means creating a dialogue among students, parents/guardians, and school counselors and administrators.
Transgender students have a gender identity that is not always consistent with their assigned sex. Sex assignment refers to the biological and physiological characteristics that define males and females. Gender refers to a person’s innate, deeply felt psychological identification as a man or woman, which may or may not correspond to their birth sex.
Triton schools have not yet experienced issues relating to transgender students. Superintendent Donna Burroughs said, “Triton will continue to meet individual student needs on a case by case basis.” She added, “We always follow the laws.”
Several administrators and school counselors met this week as attorneys from Church, Church, Hittle and Antrim spoke on the topic of LGBT protection and legal issues. According to Seamus Boyce, attorney at large, there is no explicit federal statutory protection. Boyce said that schools are not legally required to allow a transgender female to use a female locker room or bathroom; however, there are risks by not granting these requests.
Boyce referred to the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) as an “arm of the Department of Education”. OCR is a federal agency charged with interpreting and enforcing federal civil rights laws, including Title IX. Further, OCR has “enforcement” powers due to schools receiving federal funds.
According to Argos Schools Superintendent, Michele Riise, the Argos Board has not had any discussions or made any decisions concerning transgender students.
Mitch Mawwhorter, Superintendent of Union-North School Corporation, said, “Each case would present its own unique challenges,” “We had a person come to us at the beginning of last year at the Jr/Sr High. Our principal and counselor both did a tremendous job of accommodation with the child and parent.” He said. “The student only stayed for about three weeks then left for another school. We had a gender neutral restroom and PE (physical education) wasn’t in play.”
Tippecanoe Valley Superintendent, Brett Boggs, originally issued the following statement in May of this year. “I offer the following in regard to the “Dear Colleague” letter and guidelines issued by the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S Department of Justice with the support of President Obama.” Boggs also submitted the statement this month as well. He said, “As you know, the position of these federal agencies has sparked many questions and concerns from Indiana Schools as to how they should respond to the guidance. Though we are unaware of any transgender students within our schools, we recognize the number of transgender students in Indiana schools is climbing. As a result, schools are being required to balance the interests of transgender students with the privacy interests of other students. This balancing act is very difficult for schools, which is made even more challenging by the uncertainty of the law. The guidance is not a law, and there is currently no State statute or binding State or Federal case in Indiana that squarely addresses this issue as it pertains to transgender use of school facilities (such as restrooms or locker rooms).”
Boggs added, “If such a situation arrives at Tippecanoe Valley, we will work with the transgender student and their parents/guardians on an individual basis to determine whether accommodations may be provided that are mutually agreed upon between the school district and the individual student/family. Our intent at this time is not to implement a broad overreaching policy applicable to all transgender students; rather, we will work with families on an individual basis to try to address each individual student’s circumstances and concerns, We understand that not every nm transgender student will want or expect the same accommodations, and this approach allows for flexibility on a case-by-case basis.”
Daniel Tyree, Plymouth Schools superintendent, said, “At this time, we know that we have to follow the law; but there are ways to follow the law without creating a situation that’s uncomfortable for our students.” Tyree added, “We have been working with students the last two years and have done so without controversy.” Tyree said they are working with their Board attorney to establish a policy on the matter.
Carol Anders Correspondent