Philadelphia Schools Formalize Transgender Student Protections

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

The School Reform Commission of Philadelphia has approved a policy designed to protect the rights of transgender and nonconforming students in the Philadelphia School District.

Under the new policy, students may be addressed by names and pronouns corresponding to their gender identity in interactions with other students and staff, on written records including class rosters and report cards, and they may participate in gender-segregated groups and facilities that correspond to their gender identity. According to ABC News, the new policies are effective immediately.

“We have worked closely with students and members of the LGBTQ community to develop these guidelines,” said Dr. William R. Hite, Superintendent. “Every student deserves to know their rights will be recognized and upheld at school. This policy provides clear guidance and will help to ensure that our schools remain welcoming to all of our students.”

According to Philly.com, the policy formalizes what had already been the Philadelphia school district’s informal policy. For example, a transgender student identifying as a girl would have been allowed to use a girls’ restroom or join a girls’ group even before these guidelines. The district, generally a considered a culturally liberal one, has developed an understanding of how to work with transgender issues effectively and sensitively.

As of yet, district officials do not know to how many students the new policy would apply. In the last seven years, about 30 families have asked district officials questions related to transgender gender rights. Officials expect the policy to apply to a relatively small cohort of students.

Philadelphia’s transgender policy is the latest in a flurry of progressive school guidelines concerning transgender rights in the region and country. In April, other school boards in Pennsylvania, like Springfield Township, Montgomery County, and Great Valley School District in Chester County adopted similar policies. In February, the school board in Cherry Hill, New Jersey did the same.

“The purpose of this policy is to ensure safety, equity, and justice for all students regardless of gender identity or gender expression so that they can reach their fullest human and intellectual potential,” the Philadelphia policy states.

Many believe that these changes have been spurred by the Obama administration’s directive last month that public schools must give transgender students the right to use facilities of their choice. The directive was delivered in the form of a letter from the U.S. Department of Education. National and some statewide Republican lawmakers denounced the action, but it was hailed by liberal activists and civil rights groups.

“It’s good federal policy to force school districts across the country to put in place policies that respect people’s dignity,” said Bill Green, a member of the Philadelphia School Reform Commission.

The city’s School Reform Commission also passed a measure that would allow each school to create an advisory council on which principals, parents, school staff, and students would serve. The council would have a voice in affecting things like the school budget and disciplinary policies.

For interested readers, the full press release of the School Reform Commission’s new guidelines is available online.