New York State issues guidance to school districts on accommodating transgender students

On Monday, July 20th 2015, the New York State Education Department issued guidance to school districts on properly accommodating transgender and gender non-conforming students. The 12-page document is designed to initiate even the least LGBT-educated people into being able to foster a safe environment for transgender and gender non-conforming students. It features definitions of terminology associated with transgender and gender non-conforming issues, followed by common areas of concern in dealing with transgender and gender non-conforming students, guidance in those areas, and model examples of ways in which educators have addressed them.

The release of these guidelines comes after a report released by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) in late June 2015, revealing continued discrimination and harassment against transgender and gender nonconforming students in New York State, despite the Dignity Act having been in place for five years. The guidelines pull significantly from that report in their advice and aim to fix the problems the report raises.

According to the NYS Education Department, the purpose of this guidance is to "assist school districts in fostering an educational environment for all students that is safe and free from discrimination—regardless of sex, gender identity, or expression." In addition to the Dignity for All report, the document pulls from resources and reports such as the National Center for Transgender Equality
(NCTE) and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's 2011 report Injustice at Every Turn, GLAAD's Media Reference Guide, and the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network's (GLSEN) 2013 National School Climate Survey, as well as the World Professional Association for Transgender Health's (WPATH) Standards of Care.

With the release of these guidelines, State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said: 

All students need a safe and supportive school setting to progress academically and developmentally. The Education Department is committed to providing all students, including transgender and gender nonconforming students, with an environment free from discrimination and harassment. We have a moral responsibility to foster civility in our schools, and to ensure that every student has equal access to educational programs and activities. This document will help schools make that a reality for all of our students.

Last year, the New York City Department of Education released similar guidelines for schools in its district, however now proper guidelines reach schools statewide. With this, New York State joins several other states including Washington, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and California in issuing guidance specifically pertaining to accommodating transgender students.