As the Kingston City School District moves forward on its Second Century renovation plan for Kingston High School, a school board trustee is asking whether the remade KHS will make provisions for transgender students.
Early in December, the Shenendehowa Board of Education voted 4-2 for a policy change which allows transgender Shenendehowa High School students to request bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their gender identity. According to local media, trustees said the policy was created to protect students from harassment and discrimination and also to protect the district from future lawsuits. Of the 23 people who spoke at the meeting following the policy approval, only five voiced support.
At the school board’s Dec. 10 meeting, the Shenendehowa policy was brought up by Trustee James Shaughnessy during a presentation updating the $137.5 million high school renovation plan by Armand Quadrini, principal and director with KSQ Architects.
“This is something I wanted to bring up to the board, to the policy committee, but it’s appropriate here,” said Shaughnessy, a former president of the board. “The Shenendehowa school board two weeks ago passed a policy for transgender students using the bathrooms of their sexual identity. It’s now policy there. I guess one of the ways of accommodating that is to have gender neutral-bathrooms, like handicapped or small, single-person bathrooms. Since we’re building something that’s going to have to represent what our society is going to be for the next 100 years, have you considered that at all in your design?”
According to BBL Construction Services’ project manager Robin Scrodanus, that is being considered. But where it leads remains to be seen: The subject wasn’t discussed any further during the meeting, and school officials haven’t responded to requests for comment.
In Shenendehowa, students in grades 9-through-12 will be allowed to request access to bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond to their gender identity; those requests will be considered by a school administrator. The policy also allows all students access to single-user bathrooms and alternative changing areas.
It’s the law
Rob Conlon, co-chair of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN)’s Hudson Valley chapter and a KHS Class of ’88 alum, said the new policy in Shenendehowa may have been put into place to give local residents a chance to digest something that’s already the law.
“That school board may have passed that policy, but federal guidelines say that all students in the United States are allowed to use any bathroom that they choose based on the identity that they present most commonly,” said Conlon. “Oftentimes school boards are really put in a position of having to have those discussions and have those votes in front of the public and the community so everyone’s very clear about what’s going on.”
Last May, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights clarified that discrimination against transgender students is prohibited under existing bans on sex discrimination, specifically Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. In New York, the Dignity for All Students Act took effect in 2012. According to the introductory passage of the Dignity Act, the anti-bullying legislation “seeks to provide the State’s public elementary and secondary school students with a safe and supportive environment free from discrimination, intimidation, taunting, harassment, and bullying on school property, a school bus and/or at a school function.” Says Conlon, transgender kids get the worst of all the things the Dignity Act looks to ban.
“What all the research shows is that transgender students are the most victimized, the most bullied and harassed, have the most challenges in our school environments,” said Conlon. “So if we can build in precautions and safety measures from the get-go, then all the better.”
According to a 2011 report by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, students “… who expressed a transgender identity or gender non-conformity while in grades K-12 reported alarming rates of harassment (78 percent), physical assault (35 percent) and sexual violence (12 percent); harassment was so severe that it led almost one-sixth (15 percent) to leave a school in K-12 settings or in higher education.”
Conlon said addressing the issue at the high school level is a good start, though it’s often younger students who come out as transgender.