Applying Special Ed Law to Transgender Student Discrimination
While it is incredibly important to stress that transgender status is in no way a disability, there is certainly an overlapping need to advocate on behalf of both transgender students and those with special education needs in order to ensure a safe academic environment.
In fact, according to a survey conducted by the national Human Rights Campaign organization, 78% of transgender students report harassment in school, 31% report physical assault, and 12% report sexual violence. Moreover, 32% of transgender students report having experienced harassment from a teacher.
Here, within Skyer Law, we have also seen a steady uptick in complaints of bullying of transgender students. In these instances, we employ the same zealous client advocacy – for those with special education needs, or those dealing with gender identity issues – whose academic development has been impacted by this type of negative and inappropriate school environment.
The NYC Department of Education does provide Transgender Student Guidelines which include directives that students participate in gender-segregated activities with their self-identified peers, and utilize the rest room and locker room facility that aligns with their gender identity. In addition, the policy advises that students are called by the name and pronoun corresponding to their gender identity, and requires that schools take steps to ensure that a student’s transgender status remains confidential if so requested. Of course, as with all DOE policies, these directives are only effective if properly implemented by the school administration and adhered to by each member of school staff.
The national Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) has created a “Model District Policy on Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students,” which outlines best practices for districts to employ when adopting school regulations. We continue to advocate that the DOE utilize GLSEN’s policy, with is designed around the principle that all students have a right to be treated in a manner consistent with their gender identity, to make their own guidelines more robust and implemented universally.
Again, it is important to remember that a student’s gender identity, expression, or sexual orientation does not equate to a special education need. However, if your child is dealing with any of these circumstances, they too have a right to a safe school environment, and many of the special education legal principles that Skyer Law attorneys have successfully employed for over 20 years can be applied when advocating on their behalf.