School board adopts transgender policy

The Milford Board of Education adopted a transgender policy this week after making several tweaks to a draft policy that members reviewed in October.

One revision concerned transgender students requesting to use a bathroom other than the one they would use based on their sex assigned at birth.

The policy originally stated that “students shall have access to the restroom that corresponds to their gender identity consistently asserted at school.”

Board of Education member Adam DeYoung said the section needed to be spelled out more clearly so that staff members are aware of a student’s change in assigned restroom.

The board agreed to add several words, so the policy now states, “Students shall have access to the restroom that corresponds to their gender identity as consistently asserted at school and shared with staff by administration.”

Board member Jennifer Federico asked if the wording would prevent a student from just deciding on a whim to use a different restroom, and School Supt. Dr. Anna Cutaia confirmed it would. If a student just decided one day to use the girls’ bathroom instead of the boys’ bathroom, for example, that would be a “disciplinable offense,” Cutaia said.

School officials discussed at their meeting in October that for transgender students and their families, these changes follow many meetings and discussions with family and school administrators to help the student.

The adopted policy also clarifies record keeping, stating that to prevent accidental disclosure of a student’s transgender status, schools should keep records that reflect a transgender student’s birth name and assigned sex, such as a copy of the birth certificate, separate from the student’s school records.

The use of a locker rooms will be determined on a case by case basis, according to the policy, “with the goals of maximizing the student's social integration and equal opportunity to participate in physical education classes and sports, ensuring the student's safety and comfort, and minimizing stigmatization of the student.”

In most cases, transgender students will have access to the locker room that corresponds to their gender identity “consistently asserted at school,” like all other students, the policy states. If they need more privacy, a reasonable alternative changing area should be provided.

“Any alternative arrangement should be provided in a way that protects the student's ability to keep his or her transgender status confidential,” the policy states.

The policy states that transgender and gender non-conforming students shall be permitted to participate in physical education classes and intramural sports in a manner consistent with their gender identity.
It also states that transgender and gender non-conforming students shall be permitted to participate in interscholastic sports in a manner consistent with their gender identity and in compliance with the applicable regulations of the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Association (CIAC).

The new school policy is meant to align school practice with state law that prohibits discrimination based on gender identity. It is also meant to ensure all students feel safe and comfortable in school.

The policy was largely written by the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE), with input from legal counsel.

The new policy was driven by an executive order that Gov. Dannel Malloy signed last year protecting the rights of transgender students.

The policy that the Milford Board of Education adopted notes that federal and state law and district policy require that all programs and activities be free from discrimination based on “sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression.”

It defines “gender identity” as people’s deeply held sense or psychological knowledge of their own gender, regardless of the gender they were assigned at birth.

Transgender is defined as “people whose gender identity, expression or behavior is different from those typically associated with an assigned sex at birth.”

To the extent possible, schools should reduce or eliminate the practice of segregating students by gender, the policy states. “In situations where students are segregated by gender, such as for selected health education classes, students should be included in the group that corresponds to their gender identity.”

The school superintendent pointed out that schools will have to start reviewing their everyday practices that separate students by sex, such as having boys line up on one side of a room and girls on the other.

Dr. Cutaia said there are students in the school district today who are transgender, and she said it is important that practices and policies ensure the students feel safe.

She said there is evidence that failing to reach and support transgender students can result in significant harm to them.

“In a school system, it is our job to ensure safe, nurturing and equal education for all students, so that requires us to take on a systems based approach,” Dr. Cutaia said.

She said the policy is a proactive way of addressing concerns that may arise.