By Elana Glowatz

One school district is standardizing the way it serves transgender students.

A new school policy regarding transgender students includes information about bathroom accommodations. File photo
A new school policy regarding transgender students includes information about bathroom accommodations. File photo

Port Jefferson school board members approved a policy at their meeting a week ago that puts rules on the books for how district officials should interact with and accommodate transgender students, including on the way those students are referenced in school records and what bathroom and locker room facilities they can use.

The Gay-Straight Alliance student club helped the board of education’s policy committee craft the policy proposal, which was first introduced to the public in March before being approved on April 12.

For students who want to be identified by a gender other than the one associated with their sex at birth now have a right, under the new school district rules, to meet with their principal to discuss names, pronouns and designations in their school records; restroom and locker room access; and participation in sports, among other topics. They could change those gender designations in their records if they provide two official forms of identification indicating the new gender and legal proof of a change in name or gender.

Other school districts on the North Shore have attempted to make rules for transgender students in recent years, but faced backlash from the community. In Port Jefferson, however, the policy was presented and approved at two meetings without much fanfare and with no dissent. Superintendent Ken Bossert said in March that he attributed the quiet to Port Jefferson officials using community input to create the policy and to the policy committee starting the effort on its own, rather than as a response to the needs of a specific student.

“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,” he said.

The new policy, in fact, dictates that a student’s transgender status should be kept as private as possible, apart from necessary communication to staffers “so they may respond effectively and appropriately to issues arising in the school.”

What’s changing with new transgender policy

• Transgender or gender nonconforming students can request a meeting with their principal to talk about their needs
• Gender designations can be changed in school records if documentation is provided
• Port Jefferson school officials must accept the gender identity of any student
• Students’ transgender status must be kept as private as possible

It also requires the district 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.”

When the policy was proposed in March, Gay-Straight Alliance President Emma Martin said the 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 high school senior expressed appreciation that the policy would be in place after she graduates and school board Trustee Adam DeWitt, head of the policy committee, called her club’s help crucial to the process.

“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.”

Accommodation for transgender people has been an issue on the national stage in recent days, as North Carolina faces backlash for its own new set of rules that, among other provisions, blocks people from using a public restroom designated for a different sex, regardless of their gender identity.