Transgender Students

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To acknowledge concerns related to marginalization and institutional bias associated with transgender students; state the association's opposition to legislation and policies that discriminate against transgender students; and to provide recommendations for federal, state, and local policymakers and school leaders on how to better support transgender students in the K-12 education system.


According to the American Psychological Association, "transgender" is an umbrella term that incorporates differences in gender identity wherein one's assigned biological sex doesn't match their felt identity (American Psychological Association, 2015). While transgender students are a small percentage of the overall student population in middle and high schools, there seems to be an increasing number of children transitioning in this age group and a greater awareness of transgender issues among principals.

Unfortunately, a climate conducive to the educational success of transgender students remains elusive in many schools. In an annual survey of more than 7,000 students ages 13-21, the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) found that transgender students were more likely than any other students to have negative experiences at school and were more likely to have felt unsafe and to experience victimization based on their gender identity or expression. The survey also indicated that 42.2% of transgender students had been prevented from using their preferred name, 59.2% had been required to use a bathroom or locker room of their legal sex, and 31.6% had been prevented from wearing clothes considered inappropriate based on their legal sex.

Fourteen states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws to explicitly prohibit such discrimination in schools based on real or perceived gender identity or expression. While no such federal law exists, courts and the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR), as well as the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division, issued significant guidance in May 2016 asserting that Title IX prohibition against sex discrimination encompasses discrimination based on a student's gender identity, including discrimination based on a student's transgender status. The guidance addresses a school's responsibility to provide a safe and nondiscriminatory environment for all students and outlines a school's obligations regarding identification documents and pronouns, sex-segregated activities and facilities, and privacy and education records. In conjunction with the guidance, the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education released a document providing examples of policies and emerging practices for supporting transgender students. Many states have also adopted eligibility rules that explicitly permit transgender students to participate in school sports consistent with their gender identity.

Nonetheless, state legislatures are increasingly considering legislation that discriminates against transgender individuals with a particular focus on students in K-12 public schools. The Human Rights Campaign reported in February 2016 that 44 anti-transgender bills had been filed in 16 states; more than double the amount in 2015. Twenty-three of the bills are targeted specifically at children in schools, including legislation regarding school sports and public school facilities. In March 2016, North Carolina became the first state to pass a bill that requires transgender students to access restrooms, locker rooms, and shower rooms in accordance with the sex on their birth certificate. Similar bills reached the governor's desk in South Dakota and Georgia, but were eventually vetoed.

Guiding Principles
The Professional Standards for Educational Leaders adopted in October 2015 state that effective educational leaders strive for equity of educational opportunity and culturally responsive practices to promote each student's academic success and well-being.

Students should be able to enter school free of judgment from school officials and their peers. Therefore, the principal must provide an affirming school environment where each student is treated fairly, respectfully, and with an understanding of each student's culture and context.

Principals influence the school culture in profound ways, specifically in the values they emphasize and the behaviors they reinforce.

The principal's primary responsibility is to create and sustain a school environment in which each student is known, accepted and valued, trusted and respected, cared for and encouraged to be an active and responsible member of the school community.

The principal also must support a school environment where diversity is valued and accepted and where students from diverse backgrounds and identities are affirmed, supported, and assured equitable educational opportunities and access to school and community-based support services.