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State gives schools guidelines on transgender students' needs

Renee L. Rider, assistant commissioner of the Office

Renee L. Rider, assistant commissioner of the Office of Student Support Services for the Department of Education, talks about the needs of transgender students as the state Board of Regents meets at the State Education Department in Albany on Monday, July 20, 2015. Credit: Hans Pennink

New state guidelines on the needs of transgender students recommend that school districts accept each individual's assertion of gender identity, including instances in which that identity recently changed.

The guidelines, which the state Education Department issued Monday, are the result of several months' consultation between the department and student advocacy groups.

They state that confirmation of a student's gender usually can be based upon a statement by that individual. Confirmation also may include a letter from an adult familiar with the student, such as a parent or a guidance counselor, the department said.

State advocacy groups and educational organizations, including the PTA and the New York State School Boards Association, welcomed the guidelines as a worthwhile effort to support students who, according to recent reports, are vulnerable to bullying and public misunderstanding.

"This is a great thing," said David Kilmnick, CEO of the nonprofit Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youth organization, part of a network that also represents transgender youths. "This is going to represent a big change for some school districts."

The state defines transgender as an adjective describing a person whose gender identity does not correspond to their assigned sex at birth.

The new guidelines provide examples of how schools can meet the particular needs of transgender students. The state advises, for example, that teachers and school staffs use only a student's chosen name in cases where the name recently changed as part of gender transition.

In some instances, the state advises, schools may want to install curtains in sections of student locker rooms in order to create more private changing areas. Unisex bathrooms should be provided for students who request them, but never forced on students, the guidelines state.

Last month, the New York Civil Liberties Union reported that transgender students face widespread discrimination and harassment in public schools. But local educators said they are doing their best to respect the rights of transgender youths.

"That's exactly what we do," said Roberta Gerold, superintendent of Middle Country schools, referring to the state's recommendation that districts accept transgender students' choice of identity.

Gerold, the immediate past president of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association, added that the guidelines "present an opportunity for all of us to reflect on people's differences and deal with differences respectfully."

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