DESE window decal

Yesterday the East Longmeadow school committee discussed the LGBTQ “Safe Schools Program” which has been added to the district’s professional development training at the request of “elementary specialists.”

Both Superintendent Gordon Smith and Curriculum Director Heather Brown told the committee members that the program is designed to prevent bullying and to help faculty and staff create school policies that comply with state laws related to “gender identity.”

However, the substance of the program wasn’t discussed.  For that, I needed to visit the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s (DESE) website.

According to DESE,

The Safe Schools Program for LGBTQ Students provides training and technical assistance relating to LGBTQ students and staff. This includes addressing bullying, understanding sexual orientation and gender identity, and improving school climate. The Safe Schools Program conducts training and technical assistance in public schools all across the state, including public preschools.

The program, which is optional, includes both “Inclusive Curriculum Materials” (i.e., in-class lessons) and “Training and technical assistance” for faculty and staff.  Presently, East Longmeadow is participating in only the “Training and technical assistance” portion of the program.

Consequently, our elementary school faculty attended a professional development workshop on January 26 of this year that prepared them to

Be able to articulate and use correct LGBTQ terms and definitions;

Understand the experiences of LGBTQ students and families;

Have reviewed ESE policy guidance as it relates to students, families and staff;

Be aware of the factors that promote resilience and positive outcomes for LGBTQ students; and

Have a plan to use the content learned.

What exactly all this entails is outlined in a publication from DESE entitled Guidance for Massachusetts Public Schools Creating a Safe and Supportive School Environment.  Here are a few key points impressed on our elementary school administrators.

Gender Identity

According to DESE

The gender identity law [G.L. c. 4, §7] defines “gender identity” to mean “a person’s gender-related identity, appearance or behavior, whether or not that gender-related identity, appearance or behavior is different from that traditionally associated with the person’s physiology or assigned sex at birth.”

DESE notes that

The responsibility for determining a student’s gender identity rests with the student or, in the case of young students not yet able to advocate for themselves, with the parent.5 One’s gender identity is an innate, largely inflexible characteristic of each individual’s personality that is generally established by age four.

Here’s an example,

In one Massachusetts town, the parents of a pre-school-age biologically female child noted throughout the child’s early years that their child identified as a boy. For as long as the parents could remember, the child preferred to play with boys rather than girls, wanted a short haircut, rejected wearing any clothing that the child identified as “something a girl would wear,” and ignored anyone who called him by his stereotypically feminine name. When it was time for the child to enter kindergarten, the child said to his parents, “You have to tell them when I go to kindergarten that I’m a boy.”

What if parents don’t approve of their child’s new “gender identity”? 

Some transgender and gender nonconforming students are not openly so at home for reasons such as safety concerns or lack of acceptance. School personnel should speak with the student first before discussing a student’s gender nonconformity or transgender status with the student’s parent or guardian. For the same reasons, school personnel should discuss with the student how the school should refer to the student, e.g., appropriate pronoun use, in written communication to the student’s parent or guardian.

Names and Pronouns

When it comes to pronouns, our “elementary specialists” are trained as follows.

[S]chool personnel should use the student’s chosen name and pronouns appropriate to a student’s gender identity, regardless of the student’s assigned birth sex.

Here’s an example,

In one situation where a transgender girl was entering high school, she and her parent asked the principal to inform her teachers that even though her school records indicate that her name is John, she goes by the name Jane and uses female pronouns. The school principal sent the following memorandum to the student’s classroom teachers: “The student John Smith wishes to be referred to by the name Jane Smith, a name that is consistent with the student’s female gender identity. Please be certain to use the student’s preferred name in all contexts, as well as the corresponding pronouns. It is my expectation that students will similarly refer to the student by her chosen name and preferred pronouns. Your role modeling will help make a smooth transition for all concerned. If students do not act accordingly, you may speak to them privately after class to request that they do. Continued, repeated, and intentional misuse of names and pronouns may erode the educational environment for Jane. It should not be tolerated and can be grounds for student discipline. If you need any assistance to make sure that Jane Smith experiences a safe, nondiscriminatory classroom atmosphere, please contact me or Ms. O’Neill. – Mr. Jones, Principal.”

Note that there will be no tolerance (and even discipline) for students who do not cooperate.

Restrooms, Locker Rooms, and Changing Facilities

Finally, DESE states

In all cases, the principal should be clear with the student (and parent) that the student may access the restroom, locker room, and changing facility that corresponds to the student’s gender identity….Some students may feel uncomfortable with a transgender student using the same sex-segregated restroom, locker room or changing facility. This discomfort is not a reason to deny access to the transgender student.

To contact school committee members, click here for their email addresses.

To watch the school committee’s brief discussion of the Safe Schools Program, click the video below.