The Hopewell Valley Regional School District (HVRSD) Board of Education will publicly read the “Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students” policy, for a second time, at their next meeting on Monday, June 20th. The purpose of the policy is to provide a “safe, supportive, and inclusive learning environment for all students, including transgender students, and to ensure that every student has equal educational opportunities and equal access to the District’s educational programs and activities.” It further states that “New Jersey and federal law (N.J.S.A. 2C:16-1, N.J.S.A. 10:1 et seq, N.J.S.A.18A:37-13 through 17, and Title IX, 20 U.S.C. § 1681) require schools to treat transgender students equally and fairly.”
This May, the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, issued a letter to schools as a reminder of their legal obligation under Title IX. The U.S. Department of Education, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education and Office of Safe and Healthy Students, sent a follow-up document entitled, “Examples of Policies and Emerging Practices for Supporting Transgender Students.” The document states that “a school policy setting forth general principles for supporting transgender students can help set clear expectations for students and staff and avoid unnecessary confusion, invasions of privacy, and other harm.”
“While transgender issues have been in the news a lot lately, we started working on our transgender policy last year,” said Lisa Wolff, HVRSD Board of Education President. “The policy itself is not really controversial. It simply documents how the district is already working with transgender students. Though several pages long, I’d boil it down to two overarching positions. First, the responsibility of determining a student’s gender identity rests with the student. Second, all students, regardless of the underlying reason, have the right to their safety, privacy, and comfort,” stated Wolff.
Garden State Equality (GSE), a statewide advocacy and education organization serving the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community, provides professional development to the district’s administration and teaching staff on the topic of transgender students.
The district’s draft policy: (1) defines some of the terms commonly used when discussing people who identify themselves as transgender (i.e. gender nonconformity, gender expression); (2) provides guidance on names and pronouns that students may use; (3) assures the right to privacy of transgender students; (4) discusses restroom and locker room use by students who identify themselves as transgender; and (5) addresses the topic of harassment and bullying.
When asked how the district’s transgender students felt about the policy, Superintendent Dr. Tom Smith,, said, “They are aware of the pending policy and are happy with the district’s support.” As for public sentiment, Dr. Smith commented, “I think it’s a very vocal minority (that is against the policy). It’s interesting because we met with students through the development of the policy and the students said, ‘What’s the big deal? You adults make such a big deal out of everything.’”
When asked how the middle and high school principals will educate their student population on the topic of transgender people and the issues that pertain to them, Dr. Smith said that they will handle it on a “case-by-case basis.” “There won’t be any school assemblies.”
Approval of the district’s “Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students” policy will take place at the June 20th board meeting. It will be held at the Administration Building, 425 S. Main Street in Pennington at 7:30 p.m.