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Massachusetts State Department of Education Releases Guidelines on Transgender Students

February 25, 2013

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education released guidelines on Friday, February 17, 2013, following the passage of "An Act Relative to Gender Identity" barring discrimination against transgender students. The Act became effective on July 1, 2012. The guidelines were developed after the Department received input from major stakeholders such as administrators, advocacy groups, students and parents. Pursuant to the guidelines, school officials should assess cases individually and allow for flexibility in making accommodations for transgender students.

Under the new guidelines, transgender students must be permitted to participate in sports in a manner that is consistent with their gender identity. The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association must defer to the gender determination made by the student's district and may not create its own separate gender identity determinations. Additionally, wherever there are sex-segregated physical education classes in schools, transgender students must be allowed to participate in a manner consistent with their gender identity.

The guidelines also specify that a transgender student may use the bathroom, locker room and changing area for the gender with which the student identifies. Students who do not feel comfortable with such a choice should be entitled to a gender neutral bathroom such as a unisex or nurse's office bathroom. In this vein, school districts should include an appropriate number of gender-neutral restrooms commensurate with the size of the school and have at least one gender-neutral changing facility. Districts building new schools should take these guidelines into account in planning the number of gender-neutral bathrooms and facilities. Although transgender students who feel uncomfortable using sex-segregated bathrooms may use a gender-neutral bathroom, transgender students must not be denied access to a bathroom, locker room or changing area because of other students' discomfort. Where students feel uncomfortable with transgender students using same sex-segregated restrooms or other facilities, school administrators and counseling staff should work with the students to address their discomfort and to foster understanding of gender identity. Schools should strive to create a school culture that respects and values all students.

On the whole, schools should evaluate all gender-based policies, rules and practices to maintain only those that have a sound pedagogical purpose. Whenever students are separated by gender in school activities, students must be permitted to participate in such activities consistent with their gender identity. Schools should also incorporate education and training about transgender and gender nonconforming students into their anti-bullying curriculum, student leadership trainings and staff professional development in order to further a safe and supportive school environment for all students.

For the full text of the guidelines, please click here.

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