Equity & Diversity

Civil Rights Agreement Addresses Treatment of Transgender Student

By Evie Blad — October 14, 2014 2 min read
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California’s Downey Unified school district entered into an agreement with the U.S. Department of Education’s office for civil rights after a complaint alleged one of district’s schools discriminated against a transgender student, the federal agency said Tuesday.

The complaint alleged the school discriminated against the girl by “failing to respond adequately to complaints that the student was subjected to verbal harassment by peers and that staff at the student’s school disciplined her for wearing make-up, discouraged her from speaking about her gender identity with classmates and suggested that she transfer to another school.”

Sexual orientation and gender identity are addressed in Title IX of the Civil Rights Act. The Education Department’s civil rights officials have been more explicit recently in emphasizing schools’ obligations to transgender students under the law.

Under the agreement, the Downey district will:

  • Work with a consultant on gender identity to address discrimination.
  • Have age-appropriate discussions with students about gender identity with the assistance of a consultant.
  • Treat the student as a female by allowing her to access girls restrooms, sex-segregated facilities, and girls sports teams.
  • “Ensure that the student is not disciplined for acting or appearing in a manner that does not conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity or femininity.”
  • Remove disciplinary incidents from the student’s records.
  • Review its policies to ensure equal access to activities and programs for all students, even those who “do not conform to sex stereotypes.”
  • Conduct mandatory staff training on gender issues.
  • Conduct annual parent and student surveys to gauge effectiveness of school climate and anti-bullying efforts.

California has been a center of discussions on transgender student rights. In January, a new state law took effect that is designed to accommodate transgender students. From my story:

Known as AB 1266, the new law went into effect Jan. 1. It requires public schools to allow a transgender student to use restrooms, locker rooms, and other facilities that are consistent with his or her gender identity, which may not correspond with the gender listed on that student's educational records. Schools are also required to allow students to participate in gender-segregated sports, classes, and activities that align with their gender identity."

That law faced an unsuccessful recall attempt from opponents, who argued that it raised privacy concerns for other students.

Even without such explicit policies, advocates have argued that all schools are obligated to provide similar accommodations for transgender students. They’ve called on the Education Department to provide detailed Title IX guidance related to the issue.

Those obligations are have been the subject of lawsuits over school bathroom access and a recent debate in Minnesota over allowing transgender athletes to play on teams that match their gender identities.

Advocates say the needs of transgender and gender-nonconforming youth extend beyond sports teams and facilities. They are also often the target of bullying and unfair discipline, advocates say.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.