Arlington Public Schools has developed a new policy for transgender and gender-nonconforming students for the upcoming academic year.
The plan, known as a policy implementation procedure (PIP), comes in response to requests from students, parents and local advocates. The PIP was announced at a school board meeting on June 18 and has received a variety of reactions from Arlington residents.
“The PIP affirming transgender and gender nonconforming students is essential for the safety and privacy of students,” said local parent and advocate Emily Vincent. “Their gender identity does not pose a risk or danger to other students.”
A year in the making, the PIP was introduced by Assistant Superintendent Dr. Tara Nattrass. The PIP will include updates to facilities including gender neutral bathrooms and locker rooms as well as a non gender-specific dress code and preferred pronoun additions to student files.
“Arlington Gender Identity Allies is pleased with the steps that Arlington Public Schools is taking to welcome and affirm transgender and gender-nonconforming students,” said a representative for the AGIA.
The AGIA was instrumental in the creation of the PIP for APS and showed up in force to support the PIP at the recent school board meeting. The representative, who would only provide a first name, stated that the group wishes to focus solely on the advocacy for LGBTQ youth instead of seeking a public image.
APS has had a nondiscrimination policy (Policy J-2) since 2015 that includes protections based on race, ethnicity, religion, disability, gender and sexual orientation. However, this is their first policy focusing specifically on gender identity.
Other members of the community expressed concerns about how the PIP could affect all students, not just ones within the LGBTQ community.
“Our primary arguments have always concerned parents’ rights and girls’ protections,” said Maria Keffler, co-founder of the Arlington Parent Coalition.
“In the general population of students who do not express gender dysphoria, these new policies obliterate their right to privacy from opposite-sex people seeing them undressed—and vice versa—in bathrooms, locker rooms, and changing areas,” she said.
Keffler also expressed concern with Title IX protections and the potential changes to APS athletics.
As part of the PIP, all APS schools will follow the athletic guidelines of the high school varsity teams, but any student wishing to participate on a team opposite their biological sex can apply for approval.
Transgender inclusion in athletics has been a topic of discussion this year after a Connecticut high school student filed a federal complaint about allowing transgender girls to participate on the girls’ track team, as reported by The Washington Post.
The PIP was approved on July 1, though not every aspect has made it into the final draft.
In its early stages, the PIP also included a confidentiality component so that staff did not have to share sexual orientation or gender identity information with parents.
Keffler stated that although APC was not as involved in the development of the PIP as it would have liked to have been, it is pleased that that aspect has been taken out before the passage. She also expects other changes to occur and future discussions about who will be held accountable for the changes.
The APC was formed in recent years to support families who felt discriminated against by certain policies within Arlington schools, this new PIP being one of them.
According to the speech given by Dr. Nattrass at the recent APS meeting, it is the responsibility of all staff to ensure the safety of students.
Nattrass left Arlington Public Schools at the beginning of July and could not be reached for a comment on the PIP.
The 2018 LGBTQ Youth Report by the Human Rights Campaign states that the best way to protect transgender youth is to have inclusive and specific policies protecting their rights at school.
A representative from HRC provided research on the effects this plan could have on transgender youth.
In the LGBTQ Youth Report, researchers found that of the surveyed LGBTQ teens, only 26 percent felt safe at school.
Additionally, the researchers found that among transgender youth, 58 percent do not feel safe using the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity and 65 percent do not even try to use the bathroom at school for their safety.
The PIP will go into effect this fall and is scheduled to be publicly discussed again at the next APS meeting in August.