New policy would set transgender school rules

New policy would set transgender school rules

Trustee Adam DeWitt resigned from Port Jeff's BOE. File photo by Elana Glowatz

A proposed policy for Port Jefferson schools could change the way teachers interact with and accommodate transgender students.

The board of education’s policy committee crafted the proposal with help from the student body’s Gay-Straight Alliance club, and included rules for how transgender and gender nonconforming students would be referenced in school records and what bathroom and locker room facilities they would use.

According to the proposed text, students who want to be identified by a gender other than the one associated with their sex at birth could request a meeting with their principal to discuss names, pronouns and designations in school records; restroom and locker room access; and participation in sports, among other topics.

Students would be able to change gender designations in school records if they provide two official forms of identification indicating the new gender and legal proof of a change in name or gender.

Emma Martin, the president of the high school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, said during the Port Jefferson school board meeting on Tuesday night, “This policy could be the difference between whether a student feels safe in the school, whether their learning is hindered or it’s enriched, whether they graduate high school or even if their life could be saved.”

The proposed policy includes a provision that any student’s transgender status would be kept as private as possible, apart from necessary communication to personnel “so they may respond effectively and appropriately to issues arising in the school.”

In addition, it dictates that the district would have to accept any student’s gender identity.

“There is no medical or mental health diagnosis or treatment threshold that students must meet in order to have their gender identity recognized and respected,” the policy reads. “Every effort should be made to use the preferred names and pronouns consistent with a student’s gender identity. While inadvertent slips or honest mistakes may occur, the intentional and persistent refusal to respect a student’s gender identity is a violation of school district policy.”

Martin called the policy forward thinking.

“Even though I won’t be here to see this in place because I’m a senior — I’ll be leaving — I’m very, very proud to say that this will be in place hopefully when I leave.”

Trustee Adam DeWitt, the head of the policy committee, replied that the policy committee could not have done it without her club: “Your contributions and the students’ contributions as well as the staff were critical in the wording … so your legacy and the legacy of the students and the staff that helped us create this will live on for a long time.”

The school board accepted the policy at first reading on Tuesday and could vote to approve it, making it final, at the next board meeting. Its reception was a quiet one — there was no public comment on the policy apart from Martin’s.

That was not the case in other districts that recently attempted to make similar rules. In the Rocky Point and Smithtown school districts, discussions about accommodating transgender students turned into heated debates.

Superintendent Ken Bossert attributed the lack of controversy in Port Jefferson to the fact that the district took time to shape the policy with the help of input from many parties, and officials took up the matter on their own “without discussing any specific child.”

“That can be very sensitive when the community is fully aware of children who are involved in the discussion and that’s what I really wanted to avoid here.”