Groton school board considers new transgender policy

Groton — For the first time, the Board of Education is considering implementing a policy that addresses the needs of transgender and gender nonconforming youth.

The policy includes regulations — which came from the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education — that address concerns like official records, names/pronouns, restroom and locker room accessibility, athletics, and harassment.

The proposal came before the policy committee of the Board of Education on Monday evening. Without much discussion, its members opted to send the policy to a first reading at the next full Board of Education meeting, on Dec. 18, unless there are any changes to its wording.

The proposed regulations state that students have the right to be addressed by the names and pronouns matching their gender identity, and that doing otherwise is a violation.

They also stipulate that students shall have access to restrooms that correspond with their gender identity, and that "in no case shall a transgender student be required to use a locker room that conflicts with the student's gender identity."

Under the policy, students shall be permitted to participate in interscholastic athletics, intramural sports, physical education classes and health education classes in a manner consistent with their gender identity.

This is in line with the policy of the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference.

CIAC's 2017-18 handbook states that "for purposes of sports participation, the CIAC shall defer to the determination of the student and his or her local school regarding gender identification."

It continues: "In this regard, the school district shall determine a student's eligibility to participate in a CIAC gender specific sports team based on the gender identification of that student in current school records."

The handbook states when a district submits a roster to the CIAC, it has determined "that the expression of the student's gender identity is bona fide and not for the purpose of gaining an unfair advantage in competitive athletics."

The regulations from the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, included in Groton's policy, also say that schools may not "adopt dress codes that restrict students' clothing or appearance on the basis of gender."

One aspect of the policy that is unclear is how to deal with official records.

The regulations state that a district will change a student's official record upon receipt of documentation that a change in legal name or gender has been made pursuant to a court order. But it also provides alternative language stating that schools should change records to accurately reflect a student's gender identity and chosen name even if the student hasn't completed a legal name change.

This alternative is because the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act mandates consideration of a request to change a student's records if they are inaccurate or misleading.

Groton Assistant Superintendent Susan Austin told The Day after the policy committee meeting that she would ask the district's attorney, Floyd Dugas, about the language on official records.

Austin said that she likes the aspect of the policy that "directs the Superintendent to provide for the training of District staff in transgender sensitivity."

In the regulations, "gender identity" is defined in part as "a person's deeply held sense or psychological knowledge of their own gender, regardless of the gender they were assigned at birth."

The policy also defines terms like "gender expression," "gender fluid," "cisgender" and "gender transition," while acknowledging that these terms are not meant to label students but to aid in understanding, and that students may or may not use these terms.

These definitions come from the Connecticut State Department of Education's "Guidance on Civil Rights Protections and Supports for Transgender Students."

In a Feb. 23 executive order, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy directed the Department of Education to develop guidance on policies "that allow student's access to school facilities in a manner consistent with a student's gender identity or expression."

e.moser@theday.com

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