Tuckerton/Little Egg Harbor Leader

Pinelands Board Revises Transgender Students Policy

To Comply With New State Law
By RICK MELLERUP | Feb 27, 2019

The Pinelands Regional School District Board of Education approved a revised policy regarding transgender students at its Feb. 26 meeting. It allows students to have access to bathrooms, locker rooms, gym classes and both intramural and interscholastic sports teams in accordance with their gender identity instead of their assigned sex at birth. The new policy also says the district can’t enforce dress codes for transgender and “gender nonconforming” students more strictly than for other students, and requires staff to address such students by the name they choose even if it is different from their birth name.

The revised Pinelands policy is a result of new state rules released by the N.J. Department of Education in late September, based on legislation signed into law by Gov. Chris Christie in 2017. The new policy is the law in New Jersey – the local school board had no choice but to revise its policy to be similar.

Pinelands already had a 2008 transgender policy on its books, last revised in August 2016, that contained all of the above provisions. But the new state mandate does differ from the old district policy in several significant aspects.

For example, here is the old policy’s position on interscholastic athletics:

“A transgender student’s participation in the school district’s interscholastic athletic programs shall be in accordance with the eligibility requirements for participation in interscholastic athletics as determined by the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association.”

Here’s the new guideline:

“With respect to gender-segregated classes of athletic activities, including intramural and interscholastic athletics, all students must be allowed to participate in a manner consistent with their gender identity.”

In other words, the NJSIAA has been cut out of the picture when it comes to regulating transgendered athletes. A student identifying as a girl could play on a girls team despite the fact that student might have the advantage of size and strength owing to being born a boy.

But cutting the NJSIAA out of the picture pales in comparison to another state-required dictate that removes parents from the decision-making process.

“Names/Pronouns – The school district will honor the request of the parent and student to have the student addressed by a name or pronoun different from those associated with the student’s gender at birth,” read the old policy.

The new, revised policy reads, “The school district shall accept a student’s asserted gender identity; parental consent is not required. A student need not meet any threshold diagnosis or treatment requirements to have his or her gender identity recognized and respected by the school district, school, or school staff members. In addition, a legal or court-ordered name change is not required. There is no affirmative duty for any school district staff member to notify a student’s parent of the student’s gender identity or expression.”

In an understated manner, the new policy realizes that, “There may be instances where a parent of a minor student disagrees with the student regarding the name and pronoun to be used at school and in the student’s education records. In the event a parent objects to the minor student’s name change request, the Superintendent or designee should consult the Board Attorney regarding the minor student’s civil rights and protections under the NJLAD (New Jersey Law Against Discrimination). School staff members should continue to refer to the student in accordance with the student’s chosen name and pronoun at school and may consider providing resource information regarding family counseling and support services outside of the school district.

“School districts should be mindful of disputes between minor students and parents concerning the student’s gender identity or expression. Many support resources are available through advocacy groups and resources from the New Jersey Department of Children and Families and New Jersey Department of Education’s ‘Child Abuse, Neglect, and Missing Children’ web page.”

Definitions

Of Gender

If the brave new world of gender identity is confusing to some people in the state, and now, the Pinelands community, the policy offers some definitions that might be helpful in the conversations that are sure to envelop the community as news of the policy spreads.

“A safe and supportive environment within a school begins with understanding and respect. The Board believes students, teachers, and administrators should be provided with common terminology associated with gender identity. The terms listed below are commonly used by advocacy and human rights groups; however, students may prefer other terms to describe their gender identity, appearance, or behavior. It is recommended school personnel discuss with the student the terminology and pronouns each student has chosen.

Gender identity means a person’s internal, deeply held sense of gender. All people have a gender identity, not just transgender people. For transgender people, the individual’s internal gender identity is not the same as the gender assigned at birth.

Gender expression means external manifestations of gender, expressed through a person’s name, pronouns, clothing, haircut, behavior, voice, and/or body characteristics. Society identifies these cues as masculine and feminine, although what is considered masculine or feminine changes over time and varies by culture.

Assigned sex at birth (ASAB) refers to the biological sex designation recorded on a person’s birth certificate upon the initial issuance of that certificate, should such a record be provided at birth.

Sexual orientation describes a person’s enduring physical, romantic, and/or emotional attraction to another person. Gender identity and sexual orientation are not the same. A transgender person may be straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual, or asexual. For example, a person who transitions from male to female and is attracted solely to men may identify as a straight woman.

Transgender is a term for an individual whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from those typically associated with the sex and gender assigned at birth.

Transition is the process by which a transgender person recognizes that their authentic gender identity is not the same as the gender assigned at birth; and develops a more affirming gender expression that feels authentic. Some individuals socially transition, for example, through dress, use of names and/or pronouns. Some individuals may undergo physical transition, which might include hormone treatments and surgery. School district personnel should avoid the phrase ‘sex change,’ as it is inaccurate description of the transition process; the process is more accurately described as ‘gender-confirming.’

LGBTQ is an acronym for ‘lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning.’

Gender nonconforming describes a person whose gender expression does not conform to the gender expectations of their family or community. Gender nonconformity is not necessarily an indication that a youth is transgender; many non-transgender youth do not conform to stereotypical expectations.

Gender expansive, Gender diverse, Gender fluid, Gender non-binary, A gender, Gender queer are terms that convey a wider, more flexible range of gender identity and/or expression than typically associated with the binary gender system. For example, students who identify as gender queer or gender fluid might not identify as boys or girls; for these students, the non-binary gender identity functions as the student’s gender identity.

Cisgender refers to individuals whose gender identity, expression, or behavior conforms with those typically associated with their sex assigned at birth.”

There was no discussion or explanation from the board of education or administrators before the board unanimously approved the new policy. The policy, “5756 Transgender Students” was one of 17 passed in one vote and could have been easily overlooked by the public.

When Superintendent of Schools Melissa McCooley was asked if the district had notified parents of the policy in any way, shape or form, she said, “Well, it’s on our website; it’s one of our policies. And now, as it is on our board agenda, it’s being updated... We’re following the same process we do for any policy.”

“As far as transparency,” said board vice president Patricia Chambers, who was chairing the meeting in the absence of board president Susan Ernst, “I have to agree with Dr. McCooley. It’s there. We’re covered.”

Expect the issue to be raised in school districts throughout the Garden State in the coming weeks. As the Pinelands board attorney explained, although the state issued its rules in September, the majority of school districts in New Jersey use the same policy service firm that designs templates for districts to follow when conforming their policies to state regulations. That policy service just recently released its recommendations. So, the lawyer concluded, the issue has likely appeared, or will appear, on the agendas of school boards throughout the state in February and March.

rickmellerup@thesandpaper.net

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