NJ schools don’t have to tell parents about transgender kids
TRENTON — After years of districts creating rules and policies on their own, the state Department of Education has established guidance for transgender students that directs schools to honor their stated gender identity without parental input or any thresholds being met.
“Creating a stronger and fairer New Jersey for every Garden State resident includes ensuring that our transgender students are respected and protected,” Gov. Phil Murphy said. “New Jersey continues to stand with our LGBTQ community, and that includes the youngest and most vulnerable residents: our children."
A bill signed by Gov. Chris Christie in July, 2017 directed the state education commissioner to develop the guidelines.
The policy takes a "student-centered approach" that grants students the right to assert their own gender identity, which must be accepted by a school district on a number of levels and interactions. Parents do not need to be notified about a student's declared gender identity or expression, according to the policy.
"There may be instances where a parent or guardian of a minor student disagrees with the student regarding the name and pronoun to be used at school and in the student’s education records. A parent or guardian may object to the minor student’s name change request," the policy states.
Students must also be consulted if the district determines it must reveal their transgender status "for their protection and well being."
They must also be allowed to use bathrooms and locker rooms based on their gender identity, or be provided private facilities if they feel uncomfortable.
School staff must also refer to students by their chosen names and pronouns, even if they have not been changed legally, and provide documentation such as a student ID card in students' chosen names. Students must also be allowed to dress in accordance with their choices.
A transgender student's records must be updated with the student's gender identity so that all staff members the student may come in contact with are aware.
The policy also directs districts to provide transgender students with "a safe and supportive learning environment that is free from discrimination and harassment" and provide counseling for students in need.
Transgender students must be allowed to participate in all classes along with intramural and interscholastic athletics based on their gender identity.
Garden State Equality, which said it helped get the initial legislation passed and worked with the Department of Education on formulating the policy, used the words of transgender sixthgrader Rebekah Bruesehoff to comment on the policy.
“As a transgender student, I've been really lucky to have my school's support. It means I can focus on my classes, my friends, and playing field hockey. I know other trans kids aren't so lucky. These guidelines change that. As a transgender student and an activist, it makes a huge difference to know that the New Jersey Department of Education and Garden State Equality have our backs and are working to make schools safer for kids like me."
Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ