Albuquerque Public Schools made its first public foray Wednesday into the issue of transgender student rights. The board discussed the issue, but took no action, and about two dozen advocates attended the meeting to hear the discussion.
District administrators also called on the state Legislature to take up the issue of transgender student rights, and to create a uniform statewide law that would provide consistency among school districts and other entities.
The discussion was prompted by a rule, called a “procedural directive” in APS parlance, that was drafted by district administrators to provide uniform guidance for principals on how to accommodate transgender students and their families. The rule was partly based on the recommendations of a task force convened several years ago to consider how best to accommodate transgender students. However, the directive differs from the task force recommendations in some key ways.
The directive is also no longer a directive. After advocates for the transgender community wrote the board in opposition to the document, administrators said they had decided not to codify it as a rule. For now, the document will serve as a set of guidelines for principals. APS Superintendent Winston Brooks said district staff know of at least 12 openly transgender APS students – a number he said could climb as high as 50 as more students feel comfortable coming out.
The rights of transgender students in public schools have been in the national spotlight recently. Earlier this week, California became the first state to enshrine transgender student rights into law. Specifically, the California law allows transgender students to decide which bathroom and locker room to use, and whether to play for boys or girls sports teams.
The Colorado state civil rights division also recently found in favor of a family that filed a discrimination claim against their daughter’s school. Their daughter, who was born male but identified early as female, was barred from using the girls’ restroom and was directed to use a gender-neutral staff bathroom. This was found to be discriminatory.
According to the new APS guidelines, students who wish to have their gender changed in the APS system must first legally amend their birth certificate. Along the same lines, students wishing to change their name in the system must present a court order. This differs from the task force recommendations, which called for the district to grant a name or gender change on the basis of a doctor’s note. However, it brings the district in line with a recent decision by the New Mexico Activities Association, which recently amended its bylaws to require that students play for the sports team that matches the gender listed on their “original or amended birth certificate.”
APS policy analyst Carrie Menapace said APS practices should match the NMAA bylaws, because the standards should be the same for students who play sports and those who don’t.
But several board members said Wednesday that APS shouldn’t have to follow the NMAA’s lead.
“I realize the NMAA has a lot of pull, but that’s a sports issue, that’s not a school and society issue,” said board member Don Duran. “Asking for a birth certificate is cumbersome, expensive and not always possible.”
Duran, along with several other board members, said he would like to see the district set the NMAA decision aside and make its own decisions.
The directive also stipulates that transgender students be provided with a gender-neutral place to change clothes or use the bathroom. Officials said all of APS’ new construction and renovations will include gender-neutral bathrooms that any student can use, without feeling singled out.
The document is silent on whether students will be required to use a gender neutral bathroom, or whether they can choose to use the bathrooms and locker rooms of their gender identity.
Amani Malaiki, the mother of a transgender student in APS, said the language is unclear and open to interpretation. She said that as written, “Basically it completely segregates and ostracizes trans kids.” She said she was heartened by the school board’s comments, but concerned that Brooks was still willing to use the document as a guideline, even after the board expressed its disapproval.
Board member Kathy Korte said the document seems to set transgender students apart instead of helping them.
“When I first read this, I did think it was, instead of protecting our transgender students, I thought this set them up for identification,” Korte said. “And when I showed my two high school kids, they both thought, ‘Wow, that’s mean; that’s horrible,’ so I think we need to take a different tack.”
Korte also said young people are largely unfazed by sexual orientation, and that the controversy is adult-driven.
“My kids don’t give a rat’s butt whether you are gay, bisexual, trangender; my kids don’t care,” Korte said. “That’s the kind of kids we are raising today. A lot of this comes from adults. But the kids in the schools don’t care.”