by Chris Ungar
As the home to more than 6 million public school students — by far the nation’s largest contingent — it’s natural that California assume a leadership position on issues of great importance to public education. Our equity focus is reflected in our desire to improve conditions and outcomes for all students, regardless of their background. Much work remains in this area, but in many ways, California is setting the standard for the nation.
In 2013, California passed legislation affirming the right of every transgender student to access all school facilities “consistent with his or her gender identity, irrespective of the gender listed on the pupil’s records.” This law anticipated the federal government’s guidance on the issue by three years, a fact I noted in a recent letter to the leadership of the National School Boards Association. I’ve included the letter here for your review. Please feel free to share your thoughts on this and other issues by emailing email@example.com.
In May 2016, the U.S. Department of Education and the Department of Justice issued a joint letter stating that the sex discrimination prohibited by Title IX encompasses a student’s gender identity and transgender status. This guidance clarified that, on a national basis, school districts are obligated to grant transgender students access to restrooms and other facilities associated with their gender identity.
Passing a law is one thing, ensuring that said law has real-life impact is another.
We watched this development with interest from California as the federal guidance echoed legislation this state passed in 2013. That law, AB 1266, was the first in the nation to require school districts to treat all students equally based on their gender identity. It guaranteed every transgender student access to facilities, courses, programs, activities and services “consistent with his or her gender identity, irrespective of the gender listed on the pupil’s records.” (Educ. Code, §§ 220, 221. 5.) That legislation seems prescient in the wake of the federal government’s “Dear Colleague” letter and we are gratified to see the Department of Education and the Department of Justice use California’s example as a national model.
Passing a law is one thing, ensuring that said law has real-life impact is another. To help districts properly implement AB 1266, the California School Boards Association disseminated guidance on this topic to member districts in March 2014. That document has proven to be a valuable resource for our members as they perform their duty as elected officials to protect transgender students from discrimination as required by law. In July 2016, we updated this document as “Legal Guidance: Protecting Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students Against Sex Discrimination” and also updated our sample board policies and administrative regulations to reflect the new federal guidance.
A fundamental role of a governing board is governance, including setting direction for the district as it relates to creating a safe, welcoming and nondiscriminatory environment for all students. Districts are required to adopt policies protecting students from discrimination, harassment, intimidation, and bullying based on gender, gender identity, and gender expression and providing for employees to intervene whenever they witness such an act. (Educ. Code, § 234.1.)
In California, and at CSBA, we are proud to take a leadership role in advocating for equity and non-discrimination in our public schools. We look forward to NSBA’s continued partnership in this work.
Chris Ungar is the California School Boards Association 2016 President and is a board member in the San Luis Coastal Unified School District in San Luis Obispo County