From the Daily: Equal treatment for all students

BY THE MICHIGAN DAILY

Published February 13, 2014

Ann Arbor Public Schools officials have joined school board administrators across the country in the discussion of unequal school policies in an effort to protect the rights of transgender students. Current school policies are generally non-discriminatory, but they don't address issues such as a transgender student’s right to choose his or her bathroom or which gender’s cabin to stay in on a field trip. While we commend the officials for their dialogue, just having the discussion isn't enough. Ann Arbor schools need to take substantive action to protect the rights of transgender students.

Under current policy, transgender schoolchildren in Ann Arbor are dealt with on a case-by-case basis, and there are no standards in place regarding the treatment of these individuals. Nationally, no strategies have been tested or standardized. The efforts of AAPS officials to better accommodate the needs of transgender students are positive and forward-thinking. In Michigan, a person’s gender is identified by his or her birth certificate, but if a student is over the age of 18 or has his or her parent make a request, that gender can be changed. Even though these students aren't old enough to change their gender without the consent of a parent, they should be given the right to choose which bathroom makes them most comfortable or where to sleep on a field trip. By approving new policies to help make their educational environment more inclusive, school officials will be working to create a positive school experience for transgender students.

On Jan. 1, California was the first state to enact new transgender policies for students in public elementary, middle and high schools. While students in California now have equal access to school-based resources, they also face some risks, including alienation from friends, discrimination and bullying. Some students are dissuaded from using the bathrooms they want to use by the fear of harassment. It's important for Ann Arbor to make sure anti-bullying and anti-discrimination policies are enforced before transgender laws are implemented. Another option to consider is using gender-neutral bathrooms instead of having students choose between male and female bathrooms.

Still, Michigan shouldn’t hold back when giving students the right to choose their own gender. They should join other states like California and Maine in pioneering policies for transgender equality inside and outside the classroom. California’s law states, “Students who identify as the opposite sex can now choose which restroom to use, which locker room to use and whether to play on boys’ or girls’ sports teams.” The Maine Supreme Judicial Court also ruled on Jan. 30 that children should be allowed to use the bathroom of their choice. Currently, Michigan doesn’t have any laws that expressly ban discrimination against transgender people, but in 2007, former Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed an executive order that prohibits discrimination against transgender state workers. These protections have remained in effect even since Granholm left office.

As AAPS is working on these novel transgender measures, other school districts in Michigan may follow its lead. Implementing equal rights for all students is a great issue to be spending school board time, effort and money on. Despite complications, such as bullying and other students’ discomfort, Ann Arbor should be commended for taking the initiative to give transgender students equal rights. The discussion should then be translated into real policy that will ensure the rights of transgender students are protected.