Sacramento City Unified School District trustees are poised this week to approve new guidelines designed to accommodate and protect transgender students.
The policy, two years in the making, is aligned with a bill Gov. Jerry Brown signed in August solidifying rights for transgender youths in California school districts. The Sacramento City Unified policy is similar to others adopted at school districts in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland.
Supporters say accommodating transgender students – those who identify with a gender different from their sex at birth – is not new in Sacramento city schools. The district began addressing the needs of LGBTQ students a decade ago, passing a resolution in support of their safety in 2004 and starting the LGBTQ task force in 2005.
The proposed transgender policy was drafted by a subcommittee of the district’s LGBTQ Task Force. It calls on the district to accommodate and honor a transgender student’s desire to be addressed by a name and pronoun that corresponds to his or her gender identity.
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It also specifies that students can’t be forced to use the restroom or locker room that corresponds to his or her birth sex. A transgender student can ask to use facilities of the opposite gender, prompting school officials to consult with the student’s parents or guardians. The policy doesn’t directly address whether parents or guardians can block their child’s request.
Advocates of the transgender policy say it’s necessary because students at some Sacramento schools aren’t always accommodated. The policy would ensure that no child’s concerns go unaddressed.
“Right now, decisions are made on a case-by-case basis,” said Lawrence Shweky, coordinator of integrated support services for the district. “There isn’t a standard protocol in place.” In some cases, he said, a principal may not go along with the request.
Board member Jay Hansen, who represents downtown, midtown, Land Park and Curtis Park, said he feels passionately about the issue and knows it is controversial.
“It’s going to take time for us to implement it properly and give people the appropriate context and time to understand what we’re doing,” said Hansen, who is gay. “I think people know it’s the right thing to do.”
A vote is expected at the Dec. 19 school board meeting.
“This has been a long time in coming,” Vice President Patrick Kennedy said.
Board member Christina Pritchett said she received questions and concerns from some of her constituents.
“Everybody cares,” Pritchett said later. “It’s not that people don’t care about these types of students. They (are) worried about their own child.”
At the meeting, Pritchett voiced her support for affected students. “It’s hard enough to be a teenager. Right? But to be a teenager who is struggling with their identity is a whole lot worse.”
All but one public speaker voiced support.
Ralph Merletti, a substitute teacher and an unsuccessful candidate for Kennedy’s Area 7 seat in the 2012 school board election, said in an interview that he worries about “this attempt to normalize and mainstream every type of abnormal behavior there is. We seem to be saying unless we give them everything they ask for, not only tolerance and acceptance but also a stamp of approval ... they are going to be so depressed they’re going to be thinking about suicide.
“There has to be another way of taking care of this.”
Other area school districts have policies aimed at protecting all students, including those who are transgender, from discrimination. But some are exploring further action.
At Twin Rivers Unified, Director of Student Services Rudy Puente said that after meeting with the Gender Health Committee his office is reviewing model transgender policies for further discussion.
The issue gained statewide prominence in August when Brown signed Assembly Bill 1266 by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco. The measure allows transgender students to use the school facilities that reflect their gender identity. Opponents have submitted signatures to overturn the law through a statewide referendum and expect to learn in January whether it has qualified for the ballot.
Brad Dacus of the Pacific Justice Institute, which wrote the referendum language, said the district’s proposed policy fails to protect all students’ privacy. “It still allows a boy, a biological boy, to be able to enter the bathroom and the locker rooms and showers of girls,” he said.
It is unclear whether the referendum would have any effect on Sacramento City Unified’s transgender rules.
Ben Hudson, who helped draft the policy and is executive director of the Gender Health Center, said there is no reason to assume that a transgender student will be a predator any more than any other student.
“In fact, transgender students are far more likely to be more private about their bodies,” he said, “and it is their safety that we need to be concerned about in restrooms.”