SPS reviews bathroom policy

Published 7:15 pm Saturday, June 18, 2016

Suffolk Public Schools says it has shared guidance from the U.S. Department of Justice regarding bathroom use by transgender students with its school administrators and the School Board.

The letter from the Justice Department says public schools must allow transgender students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity. A school may not require transgender students to use the facilities inconsistent with their gender identity, and also may not require them to use individual-user facilities when other students are not required to do so.

Schools may, however, make individual-user options available to all students who voluntarily seek additional privacy.

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The guidance letter came amid a wave of decisions and controversy surrounding what bathrooms transgender people should use. Earlier this spring, a transgender Gloucester High School student won a court appeal regarding bathroom use at school.

According to spokeswoman Bethanne Bradshaw, Suffolk Public Schools handles requests for accommodations on an individual basis. It has received at least one such request in recent years, she added.

Requests for accommodation in the past have meant the student used a private staff bathroom, she said. However, a revised policy adopted by the School Board in April and taking effect in July prevents discrimination based on gender identification.

Bradshaw said the Justice Department letter was shared with building-level administrators and senior staff, as well as the School Board.

“Once the School Board has an opportunity to discuss the Department of Justice guidelines, further direction may be given by the School Board on how best to address this very sensitive issue,” School Board attorney Wendell Waller wrote in an email in response to questions.

The Department of Justice letter also addresses other topics important to transgender students. School staff must use names and pronouns consistent with a transgender student’s gender identity, even if school records reflect different information.

Schools must also maintain students’ privacy by not revealing their transgender status to others and must consider requests to update school records with the student’s preferred name and gender.