District policy about transgender students goes beyond bathroom access

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

The School District of Philadelphia already has a nondiscrimination policy that covers transgender students, but it is preparing a more comprehensive set of directives that goes well beyond the issue of bathroom access.

“It’s not simply bathrooms,” said Rachel Holzman, deputy chief of student rights and responsibilities. “It’s the use of pronouns and the use of a child’s name.”

In May, school districts across the country received a letter from the Obama administration with guidelines to ensure that transgender students at their schools are not discriminated against. The letter, from the Department of Education and the Department of Justice, suggested that districts not abiding by the administration’s interpretation of the law could face the loss of federal funding.

The directive has been controversial. In Pennsylvania, 97 Republican legislators signed a letter to Obama decrying the guidelines as “unconstitutional” and an “extreme outrage” that will “allow men to go into legally sex-separated bathrooms with young girls.”

Holzman said that Philadelphia has already “been accommodating transgender youth in regards to restrooms and changing rooms” without incident. Principals reach out for guidance about this “several times a year,” she said.

The District’s Policy 102, in effect since 2004, gives students general protection from discrimination and harassment — including as a result of “sexual orientation,” and “gender identity.”

This summer, Holzman said, the School Reform Commission will vote on a new policy that specifically addresses the bathroom issue, but also goes well beyond that. Holzman said she has been working with parents and youth for a year “in an attempt to codify and give clear guidance [and] develop a model policy.”

District spokesman Fernando Gallard said that officials “have been working closely with our students … and now we’re ready to take it a step further in putting it together.”

Gallard said the new policy includes clauses about intramural sports, changing areas, and bathrooms, which were not explicitly mentioned in Policy 102.

One significant change that came out of the process is a new policy on printing students’ names on official school documents. Traditionally, the system that prints rosters and report cards used a student’s legal name by default. Holzman said the new policy allows the District to “also enter in the child’s name that they want to be called by, so that all rosters and report cards print out with that name.”

The draft is now ready to be reviewed by Superintendent William Hite before the SRC’s vote.