Equity & Diversity

How One State Is Updating Its Guidance to Support Transgender Students

By Eesha Pendharkar — June 16, 2023 5 min read
An attendee holds a sign during a rally supporting transgender youth at the Stonewall National Monument on Feb. 23, 2017, in New York. The state education department released guidelines this week on supporting trans students.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The New York state education department released guidance this week on how schools across the state should support and affirm transgender and gender-expansive students.

These guidelines—which include respecting students’ pronouns, allowing them access to bathrooms and athletics, and offering more gender neutral activities—come at a time when at least 22 states have passed laws that aim to restrict transgender and nonbinary students’ rights at school.

“In the face of the climate, we wanted to affirm what the state education department’s position was regarding all of our students being provided a safe and welcoming school environment,” said Kathleen DeCataldo, assistant commissioner of the state education department’s student support services office.

See Also

Protesters cheer outside Senate chambers at the Indiana Statehouse on March 22, 2023, in Indianapolis. Indiana schools may soon be required to notify parents if their child requests a name or pronoun change at school, after state Senators on April 10, 2023, advanced a bill that some worry could out transgender kids to their parents.
Protesters cheer at the Indiana Statehouse on March 22, 2023, in Indianapolis. Indiana schools may soon be required to notify parents if their child requests a name or pronoun change at school, after state lawmakers advanced a bill that some advocates worry could out transgender kids to their parents.
Arleigh Rodgers/AP

“And really be as clear ... as possible that those rights are extended to our transgender and gender-expansive students.”

The department released the recommendations as an update to a previous version published in 2015. Part of the new document includes information on New York state laws passed since then that require schools to support all students, particularly LGBTQ+ students. For example, the report highlights the state’s GENDA Act, which was amended in 2019 to prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and expression.

The document also includes findings from mental health surveys about LGBTQ+ students, such as GLSEN’s Youth Mental Health Survey from 2021, which highlights the mental health consequences of bullying and unwelcoming environments on transgender and nonbinary youth.

The department interviewed 21 transgender students from six counties, whose experiences are documented anonymously. Their identities were kept private to protect them and their families from threats, according to the state’s department of education.

“I think the most important thing that we’ve been trying to stress is that this is all student centered,” Cataldo said.

While some high schools and some teachers provided an accepting environment, some students’ comments indicated unwelcoming attitudes toward transgender students in New York schools.

One student said teachers could be more supportive in shutting down negative comments or transphobia by other students. Another said they have been misgendered or referred to by names or pronouns they used before transitioning by school administrators. Finally, a student described being told by a school counselor that they were not ready to transition, and not being able to use the bathroom of their choice as a result.

The new guidance is the result of collaborations with about 30 stakeholders and advocacy organizations, including the New York Civil Liberties Union and the Trevor Project, an LGBTQ+ advocacy organization.

Nicole Neily, the founder of the conservative parents’ rights group Parents Defending Education, said the New York state education department should focus on providing students with a high-quality basic education, before expanding its purview into issues of gender identity.

“It is immoral ... for a taxpayer-funded system that requires parental notification for field trips or aspirin to exclude parents from knowing vital information about their children’s lives,” Neily said.

“The default setting in schools has shifted from working alongside parents in the best interest of students to an adversarial one which assumes families are the enemies.”

Over the last three years, parents in at least six states have sued school districts over policies the districts say support transgender, gender nonconforming, and nonbinary students.

The parents who have filed the lawsuits claim that their 14th Amendment rights to direct the upbringing of their children are violated when schools do not inform them of their children’s pronouns or names, or aid in their social transition at school in any other way.

Here are some of the new guidelines from the New York state education department:

Eliminate gendered activities

The state’s department of education suggests getting rid of gendered language and activities, including referring to students as “boys and girls,” or “ladies and gentlemen,” and instead using gender neutral words such as “friends, learners, scholars, pals, folks, humans, people, everyone.”

It asks districts to avoid colors, images, or symbols that have been traditionally associated with one gender to divide or otherwise categorize students by gender.

The document also suggests removing gendered graduation gowns, and replacing Prom King and Prom Queen designations with “Royal Court.”

See Also

Imran Jackson, Rayonna Ross, Stevie Mras, from left to right, made up the prom court last year at Florida’s Atlantic Coast High School prom, held on April 23, 2022.
Imran Jackson, Rayonna Ross, Stevie Mras, from left to right, made up the prom court last year at Florida’s Atlantic Coast High School prom, held on April 23, 2022.
Courtesy of Atlantic Coast High School

Finally, the guidelines suggest consulting with a district’s Title IX coordinator, diversity, equity, and inclusion staff or committee, as well as school attorneys to review their policies and to avoid gendered practices and events that do not serve a clear pedagogical purpose.

Allow students to socially transition at school

All students should be allowed to socially transition at school, and staff should respect students’ names, pronouns, and gender expressions, the document says.

“School personnel’s acceptance of a student’s asserted gender identity should require no more than a statement from the student expressing their preference,” the document says. “Schools do not need to require permission, letters from professionals, or other proof of gender identity.”

If a student wants to keep their name and pronouns confidential from their parents, school staff should assure them that they will maintain their privacy, according to the document.

If a transgender student requests a change to educational records to reflect their stated gender identity, the school should honor that request even if the student hasn’t sought parental permission or completed a legal name change, the guidelines say. However, schools should also let students know clearly that their parents may become aware of the use of an affirmed name through school communication or if their parent seeks to review the student’s education records.

See Also

Supporters of a bill to create a "parents' bill of rights" attend a rally outside the New Hampshire Statehouse on Tuesday, April 18, 2023, in Concord, N.H. The rally was held ahead of a public hearing on the bill in the House Education Committee.
Supporters of a bill to create a "parents' bill of rights" attend a rally outside the New Hampshire Statehouse on Tuesday, April 18, 2023, in Concord, N.H. New Hampshire is one of six states where parents have sued districts over keeping their children's pronouns secret and allegedly violating their rights.
Holly Ramer/AP

Allow students the use of restrooms

Denying transgender and nonbinary students access to school facilities of their choice—including restrooms and changing rooms—is a violation of the state’s Dignity For All Students Act, which aims to provide students with a supportive environment free from discrimination, intimidation, harassment, and bullying at school.

Schools should make arrangements for transgender, nonbinary, and gender-expansive students that don’t promote stigma and protect student privacy, according to the guidance document.

The document cites Title IX, wherein discrimination based on a person’s gender identity or transgender status constitutes discrimination based on sex—and hence, prohibiting a student from accessing the restrooms that match their gender identity is prohibited.

The most common solution offered to transgender students is a single stall “all gender” restroom or private changing space, the document says. However, these spaces should never be forced upon students or presented as the only option. A transgender or gender-expansive student should be free to use the bathroom of their choice, the guidelines say.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Budget & Finance Webinar
Innovative Funding Models: A Deep Dive into Public-Private Partnerships
Discover how innovative funding models drive educational projects forward. Join us for insights into effective PPP implementation.
Content provided by Follett Learning
Budget & Finance Webinar Staffing Schools After ESSER: What School and District Leaders Need to Know
Join our newsroom for insights on investing in critical student support positions as pandemic funds expire.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Achievement Webinar
How can districts build sustainable tutoring models before the money runs out?
District leaders, low on funds, must decide: broad support for all or deep interventions for few? Let's discuss maximizing tutoring resources.
Content provided by Varsity Tutors for Schools

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Equity & Diversity States Have Restricted Teaching on Social Justice. Is Teacher Preparation Next?
A new Florida law will restrict what teacher-preparation programs can teach about racism and sexism.
5 min read
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis answers questions from the media, March 7, 2023, at the state Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis answers questions from the media, March 7, 2023, at the state Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. DeSantis signed legislation earlier this month that would restrict teacher training and educator preparation institutes from teaching on social justice.
Phil Sears/AP
Equity & Diversity Opinion 70 Years After 'Brown,' Schools Are Still Separate and Unequal
The legal strategy to prioritize school integration has had some unforeseen consequences in the decades since.
4 min read
A hand holds a scale weighing integration against resource allocation in observation of the 70th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education case.
Noelle Rx for Education Week
Equity & Diversity How a DEI Rebrand Is Playing Out in K-12 Schools
School districts continue to advance DEI initiatives, though the focus is more on general inclusion and belonging for all.
9 min read
Ahenewa El-Amin speaks with students during her AP African American Studies class at Henry Clay High School in Lexington, Ky., on March 19, 2024.
Ahenewa El-Amin speaks with students during her AP African American Studies class at Henry Clay High School in Lexington, Ky., on March 19, 2024. State leaders in Kentucky are pushing the message of making sure all students feel they belong in school including by offering ethnic studies courses.
Jaclyn Borowski/Education Week
Equity & Diversity Opinion 70 Years of Abandonment: The Failed Promise of 'Brown v. Board'
If the nation is going to refuse integration, Black people must demand we revisit the separate but equal doctrine, writes Bettina L. Love.
4 min read
A Black student is isolated from their classmates by an aisle in the classroom.
Xia Gordon for Education Week