Wednesday, August 10, 2016

[San Bernardino County] Grand jury: County schools need more unisex bathrooms for transgender students

The San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools is recommended to “convert as many restrooms as possible to unisex restrooms” before the start of the new school year, the county's grand jury said in its annual report.
The recommendations, which respond to an “increasing number of lawsuits, national in scope” claiming discrimination in public schools, are aimed at protecting the rights of transgender students.
The grand jury also follows up with a letter sent to schools in May by the Departments of Education and Justice with the guidelines that “transgender students enjoy a supportive and nondiscriminatory school environment.”
The districts investigated to produce the grand jury’s recommendations were the San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools, Colton Joint Unified School District and Redlands Unified School District.
SBCSS spokesman Dan Evans noted that while none of the districts surveyed are “from the High Desert, west end or any rural district,” the recommendations apply to all county schools.
Additionally, as Apple Valley Unified School District Public Information Officer Kristin Hernandez pointed out, “Although last May’s announcement on transgender access to school bathrooms is new in some states, the law is not new to California.”
In 2013, California became the first state to ensure certain rights for transgender students when Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 1266, requiring public schools to allow students to use bathrooms matching their gender identity.
Barstow Unified School District Superintendent Jeff Malan also referenced the May letter, noting that the district “follows the recommendations given by the Department of Education, as far as following nondiscriminatory practices and being in compliance when it comes to transgender student issues.”
In the districts it investigated, the grand jury found that the school and district offices did not have any unisex restrooms or locker rooms, instead providing restroom access for transgenders only in the nurses’ or faculty facilities. It also discovered there’s no planning or cost analysis for converting restrooms and “no manual in place for teachers and administrative staff at school sites to address transgender issues.”
Consequently, the recommendations not only include converting as many restrooms as possible to unisex restrooms by the start of the 2016-17 school year, but also to survey K-12 teachers and administrators on training needs to “properly handle transgender situations.” Among other grand jury recommendations are to include specific language on gender identity in all policies related to discrimination and bullying, and for the SBCSS to create a task force to determine the cost impact of AB 1266.
Evans said that within SBCSS “there have been discussions about (a task force) taking place to provide guidance for districts” regarding transgender issues.
“As for the financial improvements to school sites, our office cannot provide directives to districts about their facility needs,” Evans said.
Hernandez said that AVUSD has established guidelines to follow AB1266, and has reviewed them with the district’s administrative team.
“At the heart of our work is student learning, and we know that students learn best when they feel safe at school,” Hernandez said.
She explained that if a student prefers a private restroom, AVUSD will work with the student and their parents to make accommodations in order to ensure they’re provided a comfortable learning environment.
“It is our moral and legal responsibility to make sure that students are not isolated, marginalized or harassed for any reason,” Hernandez said. “We have every intention of complying with the law and allow students to use the facilities that match the gender they identify with.”
A 2011 survey sponsored by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force found that 26 percent of transgender or gender nonconforming students reported being denied access to gender-appropriate facilities, including restrooms. Additionally, 35 percent reported being physically assaulted and 12 percent reported being victims of sexual violence. The results of a more recent survey will be published by the NCTE this year.
July 29, 2016
Desert Dispatch
By Charity Lindsey

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