By Jordan Wolfe
Transgender students across the country have been given clarity of their rights in school and a multitude of protections, following unprecedented new guidelines released in May.
According to the Oregon Department of Education, the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education’s new guidelines, students who identify as female, male, somewhere in between or refuse to identify at all are to be allowed use of their preferred name or bathroom that corresponds with their gender, not their anatomy.
Tillamook County schools are embracing the change.
“This isn’t a choice. We’re not trying to push a movement,” said Randy Schild, superintendent of Tillamook School District No. 9, “There is not a lot of grey area. If a student identifies as a different gender than what they were born, they have the right to use the bathroom they identify with.”
The Oregon Department of Education’s 15-page document cited federal law, “Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX) generally prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded programs and activities,” the document reads.
The documents state that discrimination based on gender identity is discrimination based on sex.
A 2015 statement by the U.S Departments of Education and Justice clarified that Title IX protects transgender and gender nonconforming students from discrimination based on sex. The federal guidelines also state schools are to provide transgender students “equal access to educational programs and activities even in circumstances in which other students, parents, or community members raise objections or concerns.”
South Prairie Elementary, in Tillamook, retrofitted a restroom at the beginning of the 2015-2016 academic year to accommodate students of any gender, according to Schild.
“We have a bathroom designed in a way where every student has complete privacy,” he said, adding that it is only offered to students upon request.
Tillamook School District plans to introduce gender neutral restrooms in other schools, Schild said.
“The real problem is the high school setting,” Schild said. “With locker rooms, it becomes a far bigger issue. We don’t know what the plan is for that yet, but it is going to come.”
However, Schild stressed that, “Our first and foremost priority is the safety and well-being of all of our students.”
David Phelps, superintendent of Nestucca Valley School District No. 101, said in addition to typical boys and girls facilities, the schools have offered gender neutral “family restrooms” since a 2007 retrofit.
Paul Erlebach, superintendent of Neah-Kah-Nie School District No. 56, provided the values for his school district. They include: celebrating our diversity; open, collaborative communication; building positive community partnerships and building a positive school and district climate.
“How many [of these values] relate to this topic,” Erlebach asked. “Probably every one of them.”
Neah-Kah-Nie High School introduced five unisex restrooms, the week following the Oregon Department of Education’s guidelines, according to Erlebach. He added the restrooms are single-stalled facilities with locks.
Aiden DeRoest, a 2014 alumnus of Neah-Kah-Nie High School, came out as a transgender male following high school.
“I was reaching out to the district with suggestions of how to make it more trans-inclusive,” DeRoest said of a letter he recently wrote to Erlebach and the Neah-Kah-Nie School District. “Only one bathroom wasn’t gendered [in the high school]; the nurse’s. And the other trans student and I were also upset about the gendered graduation gowns.”
Since his graduation, Neah-Kah-Nie High School uses just one cap and gown color.
The U.S. Departments of Justice and Education’s guidelines read to interpret Title IX to require schools to treat students consistently with their gender identity. This is to happen once the student’s parent or guardian, as appropriate, notifies the school administration of the change. School districts do not need proof or any type of documentation at any point during the process, according to the new guidelines.
“I was very sporty, so it was kind of awkward because I had to play on the girls teams,” DeRoest said.
Mid-way through high school, DeRoest accepted he was a transgender male, but did not come out and continued playing on the girls sports teams.
According to the new guidelines set forth by the Oregon Department of Education, transgender females and males should not be excluded from gender-specific sports, programs and activities. Cheer class, homecoming, prom, assemblies and all extra-curricular activities are allowed participation by transgender students. For example, transgender females are allowed to wear dresses to homecoming and transgender males can play boys basketball.
DeRoest said he had been interested in playing on the boys teams in high school, but the logistics of locker rooms, wearing a sports bra and the stigma of making others feel uncomfortable prevented him.
“Most of the time, the person who is most uncomfortable is the trans individual,”
DeRoest said the new guidelines are significant because, according to him, many trans individuals do not come out until adulthood due to a multitude of reasons. He said starting the conversation will allow students of any gender to better accept themselves.
“We’re starting to accept sexuality, now let’s get on the train to accept gender.”