The New Paltz Board of Education (NPBOE) vowed to uphold Title IX protections for transgender students despite discerning leaks from the Trump administration regarding gender identity.
On Nov. 15, 2018, the board released a statement to support students, faculty and community members who chose to identify differently from the sex they were assigned at birth. In the memo, they promised that “if the federal government effectively strips Title IX of transgender protection, the district will leverage state law or local policies to maintain equal dignity for all members of our community.”
According to the U.S. Board of Education, Title IX was established to ensure “no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” Title IX applies to numerous institutions including approximately 16,500 local school districts, 7,000 postsecondary institutions, as well as charter schools, for-profit schools, libraries and museums.
The New York Times recently obtained a Department of Health and Human Services memo that voiced the Trump Administration’s desire to narrow the definition of gender to be determined “on a biological basis that is clear, grounded in science, objective and administrable.” This would mean that, legally, a person’s gender would either be male or female. Gender identity would be solely based off their biological sex.
“Even the discussion of such changes, the fact that someone’s personhood is being debated on the federal level, could have negative effects on the community,” said NPBOE President Michael O’Donnell.
While amendment to Title IX are still far from completed, and their ramifications remain unknown, the district is still concerned that the narrowed definitions will leave transgender students vulnerable. Some concerns mentioned include sex discrimination at schools and colleges receiving federal financial aid, health programs and activities that are given federal funds.
“Title IX is a mechanism that gives justice to victims of harassment based on their gender,” O’Donnell said. “Our fear is that, if the definition is changed, those protections wouldn’t be provided those same protections if the gender definition is changed.”
Despite the proposed change, New York schools are still able to prosecute harassment, assault and discrimination at the state level. Laws such as the 2013 Dignity Act were set in place to protect all students, regardless of their identity, from discrimination and harassment.
“Over and over again, the Trump administration has made clear its disdain for the basic rights of transgender Americans,” said NY Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman in a letter from the NYS Department of Education in February. “Regardless of what happens in Washington, the law remains the law in New York and school districts have independent duties to protect transgender students from discrimination and harassment when they go to school.”
The New Paltz Central School District already provides certain accommodations for transgender students. According to O’Donnell, the high school offers two gender neutral bathrooms for those who want their own safe space. Additionally, students who identify as transgender are allowed to access any bathroom or locker room they feel most comfortable in.
Although O’Donnell is unsure of how exactly school Title IX policies will be impacted, the board wanted to pledge their devotion to protect students and uphold their mission: “The New Paltz Central School District exists for the children of the community. The focus of its programs and activities is the commitment to measured excellence and continuous growth and development for all.”
“We wanted to show our support to the local community and assure them that we will fill the gaps [in protection] left if the definition is approved,” O’Donnell said.