In the wake of the Trump Administration’s repeal of federal guidance addressing the rights of transgender and gender non-conforming students, the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island today released a report finding that only 60% of the state’s school districts currently have policies in place to protect the rights of transgender students. In light of that finding, the ACLU report is calling for the state Department of Education to require adoption and implementation of such policies by all local school districts.  Notably, the report highlights the multitude of issues facing transgender and gender non-conforming students, including privacy and confidentiality, the use of students’ preferred pronouns and participation in gender-segregated activities.

“Despite the recent repeal of federal guidance on this issue, schools have a responsibility to protect all – not just some – of their students.  Our report instead found that some districts are attempting to address this issue on a case-by-case basis, and others are under the false impression that generic ‘anti-bullying’ policies are enough,” said Marcela Betancur, ACLU of RI policy associate. “Both of these measures are woefully inadequate when it comes to meeting the specific needs of transgender and gender non-conforming students and ensuring their rights are protected,” she continued.

The report, entitled “Beyond Bathrooms: Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Student Policies in Rhode Island,” is based on an Access to Public Records Act request the ACLU made to the state’s thirty-three school districts earlier this year for copies of their policies addressing transgender students. The responses revealed that only twenty-one have implemented policies that substantively address the needs of these students, although three more have indicated they are considering policies since the ACLU made its request for information. Notably, fifteen of the 21 districts with policies have specifically adopted the RI Department of Education’s detailed guidance entitled “Transgender, Gender Non-Conforming and Transitioning Students Policy Protocol,” which was released in June of 2016.

Beyond addressing the use of school bathrooms, the Rhode Island Department of Education’s comprehensive model outlines guidance on the numerous issues facing trans and gender non-conforming students, including:

• School efforts to work with students who are actively transitioning
• Protecting students’ privacy in regards to their trans or gender non-conforming status
• Respecting a student’s right to be addressed by their preferred name and gender pronoun
• Making clean and safe facilities available to trans students so that they can fully engage in school activities
• Allowing student participation in sex-segregated athletic and other gender-based activities that are consistent with their preferred gender
• Providing learning and professional development opportunities for all school staff to help prevent, identify and respond to bullying, harassment and discrimination

The report notes that while the RIDE model is a good one, districts are not mandated to adopt it.  In fact, schools are not required to adopt any policy at all – a situation that leaves too many students at risk of discrimination and not being provided necessary accommodations to protect their confidentiality and equal access to school facilities.  The ACLU report called it a cause for concern that over a quarter of school districts in the state had no substantive policies on the subject.

“While a majority of school districts have commendable policies, others are obviously trying to ignore the issue, and this is unacceptable,” said Steven Brown, ACLU of RI executive director.  “Schools should not sit around and wait until a student’s rights are violated before taking action – they must be proactive,” he continued.

Accordingly, the ACLU of RI report recommends that RIDE adopt regulations mandating every school district to have a policy in place, based on RIDE’s model guidance, to protect transgender and gender non-conforming students. The report also urges school districts to regularly evaluate their schools’ gender-based activities, policies and rules to ensure they have a pedagogical purpose.