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. In fact, over the past two years as NASSP has gathered principals together for the National Principal of the Year program and the annual conference, transgender issues have consistently come up as a topic that “keeps principals up at night.”

In response, the NASSP Board of Directors stated its intent to adopt a position statement on transgender students in May 2016. During the 30-day public comment period, the association heard from individuals on both sides of the issue and from principals who were worried about the privacy of nontransgender students and the lack of funding to upgrade their school facilities. After taking this feedback into consideration, the board gave final approval to the position statement in July 2016.

In the position statement, NASSP states its opposition to all legislation and policies that discriminate against transgender students. The Human Rights Campaign reported in February 2016 that 44 anti-transgender bills had been filed in 16 states, which is more than double the amount in 2015. NASSP also offers recommendations for federal, state, and local policymakers and school leaders on how to better support transgender students in the K–12 education system.

One week after NASSP first considered its position statement in May 2016, the Obama administration released significant guidance to schools regarding their compliance with Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. The joint letter states that the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the Department of Justice “interpret Title IX to require that when a student or the student’s parent or guardian, as appropriate, notifies the school administration that the student will assert a gender identity that differs from previous representations on records, the school will begin treating the student consistent with the student’s gender identity.” Accompanying the letter was a separate document from ED providing examples of policies and emerging practices for supporting transgender students.

More than 20 states have filed two lawsuits against the Obama administration in response to the guidance, arguing that it circumvents state law and local control of schools. The U.S. Supreme Court also blocked a lower court ruling in a high-profile case in Gloucester, VA, that would have allowed a transgender boy to use the restroom that matches his gender identity, making it likely that the court will consider this issue in the coming year.

NASSP firmly believes that the principal 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 services. We will continue to advocate in the best interest of all students, regardless of gender identity, and will be following this issue closely at the federal and state levels. Stay tuned to the School of Thought blog for future developments. 

Key Recommendations for School Leaders:

  • Familiarize yourself with the newly released Title IX guidance and state and district policies regarding transgender students.
  • Advocate for school district policies that include protections for transgender students.
  • Model and set expectations for students, staff, and parents on how to build a positive school culture where all students feel included and respected.
  • Ensure that all incidents of discrimination, harassment, or violence are thoroughly investigated and that appropriate actions are taken.

Amanda Karhuse is the director of advocacy at NASSP. Follow her on Twitter @akarhuse