With only one month remaining for RI school districts to implement comprehensive policies protecting transgender and gender non-conforming students, a recent public records inquiry by the ACLU of RI has found a handful of districts still have no policies in place or have implemented policies that miss the mark entirely.
Ongoing nationwide research has found that transgender and gender non-conforming students face unique discrimination and barriers to learning in the school setting. In an effort to protect the rights and specific needs of this group, and comport with federal civil rights laws, the RI Department of Education (RIDE) implemented formal regulations in April 2018 requiring that all school districts have comprehensive policies addressing this issue. The deadline for compliance is July 1.
A recent public records inquiry by the ACLU of RI – a follow-up to a June 2017 report examining school district policies on this issue – found that while most RI school districts have since implemented policies that comply with RIDE’s regulations, a number of them have not. Newport, Tiverton, Woonsocket and Johnston for example, currently have no policy in place that addresses the RIDE regulatory requirements, although Tiverton indicated it is working on one. In addition, Chariho and Coventry have adopted policies in recent weeks, but they fall far short of the intent of RIDE’s regulations and fail to provide meaningful support to these vulnerable students.
“Since our initial report, we are pleased to note that most districts have implemented strong and inclusive policies. But a few continue to drag their feet or have only paid lip service to the regulations,” said Steven Brown, ACLU of RI executive director. “In addition to failing to protect students and provide an equitable learning environment, these districts risk violating anti-discrimination laws.”
The result of advocacy efforts on the part of the ACLU and more than a dozen advocacy organizations, the regulations are based on RIDE’s model guidance released in 2016. That guidance offered school districts a comprehensive policy outlining the rights of transgender and gender non-conforming students; however, districts were not required to adopt it. Research conducted last year by the ACLU of RI revealed that many schools continued to have no policies in place, despite RIDE’s guidance, prompting the push for state regulations.
The new formal regulations mandate districts’ policies be consistent with state and national best practices, and “address, at a minimum, such issues as confidentiality and privacy, discipline and exclusion, staff training, access to school facilities and participation in school programs, dress codes and official school records and use of preferred names and pronouns.”
“Our schools have a responsibility – both legally and ethically - to provide a learning environment free of discrimination,” said the ACLU’s Brown. “Given the federal government’s recent withdrawal of guidance on this issue, it is more important than ever that our schools move to protect all students,” he continued.
The ACLU will continue to monitor the lagging school districts to ensure they comply with RIDE’s regulations by the July 1st deadline.