By Marcy Stamper
School officials are reassuring transgender students that their rights will be protected by state laws and policies in local districts, despite a ruling issued last week by the federal Education and Justice departments that rescinds safeguards issued last May under the Obama administration.
Washington law protects transgender students from discrimination in school, said Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal. Those safeguards include names and pronouns, dress codes, participation in sports and physical education, protection from harassment, and use of restrooms and locker rooms, he said.
The recent ruling by the Trump administration’s Education and Justice departments rescinds guidance issued by those same departments under Obama that required all schools to treat students “consistent with the student’s gender identity.”
In 2006, sexual orientation and gender identity were added as protected classes to Washington’s law against discrimination. Six years later, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction issued formal guidelines that specifically address students’ access to restrooms and locker rooms.
The guidelines instruct school districts to allow students to use the restroom consistent with their gender identity. The guidelines also say that no student should be required to use a locker room that conflicts with his or her gender identity. School districts have been complying with the guidelines successfully for five years, said Reykdal.
Because the new federal guidance allows for the primary role of states and of local school districts, “Our state laws continue to protect our transgender students,” said Reykdal.
“My job as superintendent is to ensure every student in our state receives a high-quality education. Our state laws are explicit. We must not discriminate against our students, no matter their gender identity or sexual orientation,” he said.
Local school staff expressed support for the policy. Kelleigh McMillan, the mentorship coordinator and family empowerment counselor with the Methow Valley School District, pointed to the state’s “long and proud history of embracing differences.”
Methow Valley School District Superintendent Tom Venable quoted the district’s strategic vision, which states, “Diversity makes our community stronger.”