Transgender issue to be addressed as ‘needs arise’

Cash: ‘Reasonable accommodations will be made’ on an individual basis

By CHRISTY ARMSTRONG  Banner Staff Writer
Posted 6/4/16

Bradley County Schools is just one of many school systems throughout the United States being asked to consider how transgender students are treated at school.

Bradley County Director of Schools …

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Transgender issue to be addressed as ‘needs arise’

Cash: ‘Reasonable accommodations will be made’ on an individual basis


Bradley County Schools is just one of many school systems throughout the United States being asked to consider how transgender students are treated at school.

Bradley County Director of Schools Dr. Linda Cash said the school system’s current strategy is to evaluate on a case-by-case basis transgender students’ requests to do things like use their chosen genders’ restrooms and locker rooms.

“Middle school and high school are an interesting time, and students require accommodations for a variety of reasons,” Cash said. “As students’ needs arise, we make accommodations.” 

The U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice issued “joint guidance” in May which outlined how schools should interpret federal anti-discrimination laws.

Later the same month, Tennessee joined 10 other states in filing a lawsuit which accused the federal agencies of overstepping their authority.

Debates have ensued nationwide over how schools should address students choosing to adopt a gender different than the ones assigned to them at birth.

At the heart of the national debate is balancing transgender students’ desires to use the restrooms and locker rooms for their chosen genders with students’ discomfort with having a transgender student present. This could involve a male student who wishes to become a female sharing these facilities with females, or vice versa.

Cash stressed students’ concerns are heard when they are taken to their school administrators and “reasonable accommodations will be made” for any transgender students.

“We can’t make a broad statement without knowing of individual needs,” Cash said.

None of the schools in the Bradley County system have single-stall or unisex bathrooms or locker rooms which are made available to students on a regular basis, Cash confirmed.

She again stressed that schools will decide on this issue on an individual basis. Cash said accommodation would be given depending on what the student is requesting.

However, she said the community should know that Bradley County Schools is “concerned about the safety and health of all students.” She added concern does extend to into areas like restrooms and locker rooms.

“Students have multiple reasons to be uncomfortable during this stage,” Cash said, citing body image issues students sometimes experience in adolescence. “We would not want to add to that discomfort.”

The federal directive cites Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and attempts to dictate how public schools nationwide are to address the concerns of transgender students.

A widely-distributed “Dear Colleague letter” said school administrators must “begin treating the student consistent with the student’s gender identity” if the student or his or her parent or guardian notifies the administration the student will “assert a gender identity that differs from previous representations or records.” 

It also cited concerns about Title IX requiring schools to not create a “hostile environment” based on gender discrimination.

“A school’s failure to treat students consistent with their gender identity may create or contribute to a hostile environment in violation of Title IX,” the directive read.

Public schools in the United States are required to stay in alignment with federal laws in order to receive federal funding.

Though the issue of transgender students using new bathrooms and locker rooms has received much debate, the federal guidance also touches upon other issues related to a student’s experience at school.

For example, it points out that schools are allowed to have boys’ and girls’ sports teams. However, the federal guidance says schools may not discriminate against a transgender student, which could require they be allowed to try out and pursue a spot on a team for students of their chosen gender.

“No student should ever have to go through the experience of feeling unwelcome at school or on a college campus,” U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. said in a statement. “This guidance further clarifies what we’ve said repeatedly — that gender identity is protected under Title IX.”

“Educators want to do the right thing for students, and many have reached out to us for guidance on how to follow the law,” King added. “We must ensure our young people know that whoever they are or wherever they come from, they have the opportunity to get a great education in an environment free from discrimination, harassment and violence.”

While proponents of these guidelines have cited the importance of making transgender students feel comfortable, others say allowing transgender students to use certain facilities could make other students uncomfortable in the process.

That concern, along with the assertion that individual states are the ones which should be making such decisions, has prompted some states to sue.

Tennessee joined the lawsuit of “Texas v. Department of Education” on May 25. The 10 states joining Texas in the lawsuit also include Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Maine, Oklahoma, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

“The Executive Branch has taken what should be a state and local issue [under the 10th Amendment] and made it a federal issue,” Tennessee Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III said in a statement. “Schools that do not conform under the new rules risk losing their federal funding. This is yet another instance of the Executive Branch changing law on a grand scale, which is not its constitutional role.” 

Slatery further pointed out that it is the U.S. House of Representatives’ job to legislate — “not the Executive Branch.” He described the directive as a “social experiment” which is “placing the burden largely on our children, not adults.” 

“Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of ‘sex’ — defined to be a biological category based principally on male or female anatomy,” Slatery said. “The Administration is incorrectly interpreting Title IX to include self-proclaimed gender identity. By issuing this change as a ‘guideline,’ DOE and DOJ are sidestepping the APA [Administrative Procedures Act] and infringing on a legal territory reserved for the legislature.” 

As state officials continue to debate federal officials over this issue, schools are left having to decide how they will address this issue.

Cleveland City Schools Interim Director Cathy Goodman also weighed in on this issue within this past week.

Goodman, who will continue to serve as the assistant director after the new director starts July 1, said the Cleveland school system is “waiting to see what is going to happen” with the court case and expects schools will “eventually get guidance from the courts.”

“We will continue to make reasonable accommodations on an individual basis,” Cash said of the Bradley County system. “We also honor the privacy of all students.”


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