Scarborough board enacts policy affirming rights of transgender students

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SCARBOROUGH — A policy addressing the rights and needs of transgender students was unanimously adopted by the Board of Education last week.

The wide-ranging policy takes effect immediately. It builds on pre-existing guidelines established after a precedent-setting, 5-1 decision of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court in 2014 – the first of its kind in the country – that granted transgender students the right to use the school bathroom that matches their preferred gender, rather than their biological gender.

The policy addresses the need to create an environment that is “safe and free from discrimination, harassment and bullying” for transgender students, according to the language. It includes definitions of key terms, such as gender identity and gender expression, as well as guidance on specific issues like privacy and how to correctly use the names and pronouns of transgender students. It would apply to dress codes, bathrooms, locker rooms and any other facilities or activities separated by gender.

Board members earlier this month noted that there have been no reports in Scarborough of conflict between transgender students and staff, or around bathroom use. But with an increase of court cases around similar situations across the country, many districts are becoming proactive.

Chairwoman Donna Beeley, following the board’s adoption of the policy June 16, said, “We feel very proud. … I’m not sure how many other towns have decided to create a policy, (but) sooner or later, they’re going to have to do that. … We feel it’s the right thing to do. It’s really for the safety of all our students.”

The new policy includes definitions of key terms, such as gender identity and gender expression, as well as guidance on specific issues like privacy and how to correctly use the names and pronouns of transgender students.

One’s gender identity, according to the policy, is a person’s “deeply held sense or psychological knowledge of their own gender. One’s gender identity can be the same or different than the gender assigned at birth.”

Under the formal policy, a student can “be considered transgender if, at school, he/she consistently asserts a gender identity or expression different from the gender assigned at birth. This involves more than a casual declaration of gender identity or expression, but it does not necessarily require a medical diagnosis.”

Staff and teachers are now formally required and “expected to be sensitive to” accommodate transgender students in a variety of ways; for example, by using the preferred name and pronoun when referring to a student, even if they don’t correspond to the “gender assigned at birth.”

The policy also includes directives for parents of transgender students, which encourages meeting with a guidance counselor or other relevant school staff so educators can develop a plan.

Over the last month, each time the board has vetted the proposal, no members of the public have requested to comment on it; Beeley said she takes that as a good sign from the community.

“Maybe we live in a town that is very understanding of individual needs and of the importance of the school system providing safety for everyone,” she said. It speaks well of the community that it “didn’t become an issue.”  

Alex Acquisto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or aacquisto@theforecaster.net. Follow Alex on Twitter: @AcquistoA.

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South Portland and Scarborough reporter for The Forecaster. Graduate of Western Kentucky University and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Alex can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106.