N.Y civil liberties group: State fails to protect transgender students from harassment

New-York-state

New-York-state

ALBANY, N.Y. — Transgender students are often harassed in public schools across New York, and education officials have failed to carry out a legislative mandate to protect them, the New York Civil Liberties Union said Wednesday.

In a report, the NYCLU said discrimination and harassment are pervasive, though a five-year-old state law to protect all students from bullying also explicitly prohibits discrimination based on actual or perceived gender.

“Instead of supporting kids, too many schools are magnifying the problem by imposing discriminatory and even illegal policies,” Executive Director Donna Lieberman said. It happens with children as young as 5, she said.

In the 2012-13 academic year, schools statewide reported 24,478 incidents of harassment under the law, 19 percent of them related to gender stereotypes, the report said. The civil liberties group said one-third of schools provided no data at all. It said the group also regularly receives requests for legal help from children and families, which also informed the report.

The NYCLU said the state Education Department has failed to provide guidance on applying the law to transgender youth, and that schools have ad hoc policies that are mostly “insufficient, illegal and deeply damaging” to them.

Spokesman Dennis Tompkins said keeping students safe is the top priority, and the department is working with advocates to complete guidance for school districts before the new academic year starts this fall. It will complement guidance for administrators and faculty from 2013, he said.

According to the report, school administrators routinely require medical or legal “proof” or ask invasive questions about gender nonconforming students, who are often cited for dress code violations that can result in disciplining. While many students keep their status private, and have a constitutional right to do that, schools often identify them to classmates and staff by refusing them access to the bathrooms or playing on sports teams that correspond with their gender identity.

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It cited a 2013 national school climate survey showing almost 75 percent of transgender students reported being verbally harassed at school in the previous year and that one-third had been assaulted.

Its recommendations include immediate guidance and training to all school staff on responsibilities for using students’ preferred names and pronouns, access to restrooms and locker rooms that correspond to gender identity, private bathrooms for students who want additional privacy and equal opportunities to participate in sports and gym classes.

The report also called for better state data collection and compliance oversight and that each school have an accessible and confidential method for taking complaints of discrimination, harassment and bullying.

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