A Guide for Schools on Department of Education Guidance

A Guide for Schools Responding to Questions About the U.S. Department of Education’s Guidance on the Rights of Transgender Students

On May 13, the U.S. Department of Education offered guidance to schools clarifying that transgender students have the right to be free from discrimination in schools, including the ability to use gender-separated facilities (such as restrooms and locker rooms) that match their gender identity. This guidance follows similar policies in states and school districts across the country, including many that have been treating transgender students with dignity and respect for more than a decade.

Universally, these policies have helped transgender students enormously, and without any negative impact on non-transgender students.

The Department of Education released the guidance because schools and districts requested clarification on their obligations under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX), which prohibits discrimination in education programs based on sex, and how they can safeguard transgender students’ rights to privacy and safety. This approach ensures that transgender students’ civil rights will be protected, including guaranteeing them access to facilities consistent with their gender identity.

Conversations about transgender students are new for many families. Parents and guardians may have questions about what the guidance means for their school. This guide was created to help administrators and school board members respond to these questions.

As an administrator or school board member, you are the expert on your school’s students and families. We hope you will share these facts in a way that feels authentic to you and appropriate for your school.

HRC Foundation

Will the school be allowing boys in girls’ restrooms and locker rooms and vice versa?
No. As always, boys will not be allowed to use girls’ facilities and girls will not be allowed to use boys’ facilities. Nothing in these guidelines allows otherwise.  Transgender girls are girls and transgender boys are boys.

What does the Department of Education guidance actually do?
The guidance clarifies that Title IX protects transgender students from discrimination on the basis of gender identity. It simply states that the Department of Education considers a student’s gender identity to be that student’s sex for the purposes of Title IX. It covers a range of subjects including honoring a transgender student’s name and gender pronouns, the student’s access to sports teams, and their right to privacy about their transgender status.

The part of the guidance that has received the most attention is the clarification that a student should use gender-separated facilities based on their gender identity. For most students that facility matches the gender on their birth certificates, but for students who are transgender, it might not. Many schools were already taking this approach before the guidance.

Why do transgender students get special accommodations?
They are not receiving special accommodations.  Every student has the right to use bathrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity. The guidance is making sure schools understand that this is true for transgender students as well as non-transgender students.

Are there transgender students at this school?
If there are transgender students in our community, that information is private, and it is not legal for me to share information  about other children with you. But that raises an important point—transgender children are just like any other student; they are in school to learn and grow with their peers, not to upset anyone.

How can we be sure that students will not inappropriately access gender-separated facilities by pretending to be transgender?
Nothing in the guidance bars us from prohibiting a student from using a facility that is not consistent with their gender identity. It is extremely unlikely—and unheard of among schools that have have had these policies in place for years— that a student who is not transgender would exploit these guidelines to inappropriately access facilities.

Many schools already allow transgender children to use the facility that matches their gender identity, and there are no reports of a student pretending to be transgender to inappropriately access restrooms or locker rooms.

For many students using a new restroom and locker room is just one part of their gender transition, the process of being publicly recognized as the gender they know themselves to be. This process takes time and may involve a number of changes, like a change of name. Administrators, teachers and counselors work with the transgender student to plan how and when each change will take place. Usually, this planning also involves the student’s family and healthcare providers.

What are you doing to keep students safe in restrooms and locker rooms?
It’s important to remember that harassment, bullying and other misconduct in locker rooms and restrooms typically involve non-transgender students of the same gender. Inappropriate behavior by any student will be addressed by school officials.

In reality, transgender students are much more likely to be the victims of harassment, especially when they are forced to use facilities that don’t match their gender.

What if my child does not feel safe or comfortable sharing restrooms or locker rooms with a transgender student?
We want to make sure your child has access to restrooms and locker rooms where they feel safe and comfortable. If your child is feeling unsafe at school for any reason, please let me know right away.

Many schools have more private facilities, such as a nurse’s restroom or referee’s locker room, that a student who wants more privacy—for any number of reasons—could use. Alternately, the student could be permitted to use the locker room on a different schedule, such as changing earlier or later than other students.

Why can’t transgender students use private facilities instead?
Some students, for many different reasons,  prefer to use private, single-user facilities. Expanding access to these  facilities benefits a wide range of students, as does increasing privacy in multi-user facilities through features like privacy curtains. However, there are several reasons why transgender students should not be forced to use only single-user facilities:

  • Not every school has these facilities. Where they exist, they may not be close enough to a student’s classroom when the student needs them.

  • In cases where classmates know that a fellow student is transgender, making that student use separate facilities makes them more likely to be excluded and bullied.

  • In cases where classmates do not know that a fellow student is transgender, making that student use separate facilities could compromise their privacy as classmates question why they cannot use the regular restroom and locker room.

There is research showing that, for transgender students specifically, being restricted to these facilities can seriously harm their mental health. What’s more, doctors tell us that too many transgender children “hold it” during the school day when they can’t use the gender-appropriate restroom, putting them at risk for dehydration and infections.

Why is this necessary?
Experts are learning that transgender students are healthy and successful when their community accepts them, but they are harmed academically and emotionally when schools place special restrictions on them. One recent study found that transgender students barred from gender-appropriate restrooms and locker rooms were more likely to  attempt suicide. We take student mental health extremely seriously and we can’t ignore these risks.

I don’t feel that my perspective has been included in this debate.
When we make policies about student safety and well-being, we take parent input seriously. We also look at how a given policy has affected students at other schools. These guidelines have existed for years in districts across the country; in fact, Los Angeles, the largest public school district in the United States, has had a similar policy for more than a decade. These policies have caused no problems, and have made schools safer and more inclusive.

We hear your concerns and are always watchful for problems with any policy. If problems do arise—for either transgender or non-transgender students—we will work together to solve them. It is and will continue to be our responsibility to enact policies that create a safe and welcoming learning environment for all of our students, so that each of them can succeed personally and academically.