New Jersey schools are about to be out of excuses for violating the rights of transgender students.
The state Department of Education on Thursday sent new guidelines to schools, explaining how to follow a 2017 law that reinforced protections for transgender students, including expressly forbidding districts from keeping students out of the bathrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity.
The new rules also settle once and for all how schools should handle other controversial issues, such as what name to call transgender students, whether birth names should be printed on school documents and how much schools should tell parents about student's gender identity.
The guidance is especially important because too many schools continue to mishandle situations involving transgender students, said Christian Fuscarino, executive director of Garden State Equality, an advocacy group for the LGBT community.
"Transgender students now have some of the best protections in the country," Fuscarino said.
According to the guidance:
- A school district must accept a student's gender identity. Parental consent or notification is not required.
- Schools should use a student's preferred name and pronoun, print the preferred name on school documents and keep records with the birth name and gender in a separate, confidential file.
- Students must be allowed to dress in a way that matches their gender identity
- Students must have access to bathrooms, locker rooms, gym classes and other actives that match their gender identity.
- All students, including those uncomfortable being in the same locker room or bathroom as transgenders students, must have access to a unisex or private facility.
While some schools have already made strides in treatment of transgender students, others are "in denial" about students' rights, Fuscarino said.
"This guidance make it very clear to schools that they need to protect transgender students," he said.
The 2017 law, signed by former Gov. Chris Christie, was designed to replace federal guidance on transgender rights issued by President Barack Obama and later rescinded under the Trump administration.
The law tackled many of the most pressing issues for transgender students and called on the state Education Department to send guidelines to schools to clear up any confusion about how it should be interpreted.
But the Christie administration never did, leaving Gov. Phil Murphy to make those decisions.
Murphy's administration said it hopes the rules help districts set their policies and procedures.
"New Jersey continues to stand with our LGBTQ community, and that includes the youngest and most vulnerable residents: our children," Murphy said.
Opponents of the law, such as the New Jersey Family Policy Council, had argued decisions about what names to call students and what bathrooms students use should be made on the local level.