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Transgender kids and school bathrooms
February 28, 2013 - Andrea Johnson
Should a Colorado transgender girl be permitted to use the girl's bathroom at school?
Jeremy and Kathryn Mathis, parents of 6-year-old Coy, who was born male, are suing the Fountain-Fort Carson School District in Colorado after the principal informed them that Coy would no longer be permitted to use the girls' bathroom. Instead, school officials wanted Coy to use the boys' bathroom, faculty bathrooms, or the bathroom in the nurse's office. The school district reasoned that parents of other students and Coy's classmates would become uncomfortable with the situation once Coy hits puberty and they didn't want to set a precedent.
Coy, one of a set of triplets, apparently has acted like and claimed to be a girl since toddlerhood. The parents let Coy dress as a girl since the child was 4 and changed all Coy's identification to indicate female gender.
The Mathis' lawsuit hit the news the same week that Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education released a new set of guidelines for schools dealing with transgender students. The guidelines instruct schools to treat students as the gender they identify as, including allowing them to use the bathrooms for that gender. Schools would not necessarily inform the parents of the students if their kids identify as a gender different than the one they were born. Teachers are instructed to talk with the student first and find out what the student wants to tell his parents about his gender identity.
It also calls on schools to discipline students who consistently express discomfort with the transgender student or call him or her by the "wrong" gender pronoun. In one high school that had a transgender girl enroll, a principal sent out a notice to teachers that included these instructions: "Continued, repeated, and intentional misuse of names and pronouns may erode the educational environment for Jane. It should not be tolerated and can be grounds for student discipline."
Massachusetts' guidelines also state: "Some students may feel uncomfortable with a transgender student using the same sex segregated restroom, locker room or changing facility. This discomfort is not a reason to deny access to the transgender student. School administrators and counseling staff should work with students to address the discomfort and to foster understanding of gender identity, to create a school culture that respects and values all students."
If Coy were attending a Massachusetts school, it's likely that there would be no lawsuit. However, different states have different rules. Last year, Maine, which apparently has a different law in place, ruled that schools are not required to permit a transgender student to use the bathrooms for the gender they identify as. I'm not sure what laws Colorado has in effect, but Coy's school apparently felt it had not been discriminatory because Coy was allowed to dress in girl's clothing, was addressed by the female pronoun and treated like a girl in all other aspects. It might not be a done deal in Massachusetts either. FOX News reports that a Democratic Massachusetts state lawmaker is putting forward a bill that would require people to use the bathrooms (and other sex-segregated facilities and activities) appropriate for their anatomical sex.
Undoubtedly North Dakota schools will be asked to deal with this issue sooner or later, if they haven't already. What do you think is a fair solution for a student like Coy?
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