Local school districts respond to federal guidance for transgender students

The Obama administration released guidance Friday on treatment of transgender students.
The Obama administration released guidance Friday on treatment of transgender students. The Associated Press, file

Public schools around the country received guidance Friday morning from the Obama administration on how to treat transgender students.

The U.S. departments of Education and Justice released a joint statement to educators to “help provide educators the information they need to ensure that all students, including transgender students, can attend school in an environment free from discrimination based on sex.”

The statement informed schools that the federal government treats a student’s gender identity as the student’s sex for purposes of enforcing Title IX. And, under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, schools receiving federal money may not discriminate based on a student’s sex, including a student’s transgender status.

The release put schools in an unexpected position in which they had to choose to follow or ignore the guidance from the federal agencies. Schools that don’t fall in line with the guidance could lose federal funding.

“We believe the statement speaks for itself,” Bellefonte Area School District Superintendent Michelle Saylor said. “We will continue to look for guidance as we ensure a safe and discrimination free environment for all.”

State College Area School District spokesman Chris Rosenblum said SCASD already works with its transgender students to respond to and meet their needs under Title IX.

“We will reflect upon President Obama’s directive as we would with any directive legislation or statute to get a better understanding of the possible effects, if any, on our school community,” he said. “We also will consult with our solicitor to ensure our policies align with this directive, and we will forward any recommendations from him to the school board.”

Philipsburg-Osceola, Penns Valley and Bald Eagle Area school districts have not responded to requests for comment.

The guidance explains that when students or their parents notify a school that a student is transgender, the school must treat the student consistent with the student’s gender identity. Schools cannot require transgender students to have a medical diagnosis, undergo medical treatment or produce an identifying document before treating them consistent with their gender identity.

“There is no room in our schools for discrimination of any kind, including discrimination against transgender students on the basis of their sex,” said Attorney General Loretta Lynch. “This guidance gives administrators, teachers and parents the tools they need to protect transgender students from peer harassment and to identify and address unjust school policies. I look forward to continuing our work with the Department of Education — and with schools across the country — to create classroom environments that are safe, nurturing and inclusive for all of our young people.”

The directive also said that schools are obligated to respond “promptly and effectively to sex-based harassment of all students,” treat students consistent with their gender identity despite school records or identifying documents and “protect students’ privacy related to their transgender status under Title IX and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.”

Shawn Annarelli: 814-235-3928, @Shawn_Annarelli