Schools get new guidance for gender inclusivity, supporting students, safety

New guidance from the Oregon Department of Education instructs schools on how best to support and protect “gender expansive” students, or “people whose gender expression and identity expand beyond perceived or expected societal gender norms.”

It also reminds schools of state and federal laws requiring they do so. 

The 48-page document published Jan. 5, Supporting Gender Expansive Students: Guidance for Schools, describes gender expansive students as those who identify with a range of gender identities, including transgender, nonbinary and gender-fluid.

It’s an update to guidance issued in 2016, which focused on creating safe and supportive environments primarily for transgender students. That guidance was one of the first of its kind in the nation, according to the education department. 

About 8% of Oregon 6th, 8th and 11th graders identify as transgender, questioning their gender or as gender expansive, according to a 2020 survey from the Oregon Health Authority and the education department. 

That same survey found that more than 40% of these students reported seriously considering suicide. 

“Ensuring the implementation of policies, procedures and practices that create a safe and welcoming school environment is the right thing to do, and doing so saves lives,” the latest guidelines state. 

The document outlines the state and federal rights protecting students from discrimination based on their gender identity and to give them an equal opportunity to education. It includes guidance on using students’ preferred names and pronouns, on guaranteeing access to school facilities that align with a student’s gender identity, and recommends schools and families create support and safety plans for students that are bullied or fear bullying or expressing their gender identity. The guidance directs schools to notify parents in any instance of bullying. School mental health professionals and nurses should be prepared to work with students across a range of gender identities and seek additional training if needed, the document says.

A 2019 survey from the state health and education departments found more than 10% of students in Oregon who identified as gender expansive had missed days of school because they felt unsafe.

“Gender expansive students who are absent due to fear, or who spend their school day feeling unsafe, are prevented from accessing their right to an education,” Colt Gill, director of the state education department, said in a statement. 

For families, the guidance includes information on how to file a discrimination complaint with state and federal agencies and lists medical resources focused specifically on youth gender-affirming health care. 

The guidance was developed over more than a year with the input of hundreds of students, parents, school staff, community groups and the Oregon Health Authority officials.

It corresponds with growing threats to the rights of LGBTQ youth in the state and across the nation, according to a news release from the education department. 

Dozens of bills have been proposed in more than 20 states that would infringe on students’ access to health care, school facilities and sports based on their gender identity, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. In light of such bills, the latest guidance from the Oregon Department of Education reminds schools that state law affirms the right for students to participate on sports teams that reflect their gender identity, and to choose bathrooms and locker rooms that reflect their gender identity. Denying students the right to do constitutes discrimination under Oregon law.

According to a 2019 survey of Oregon students by GLSEN, a New York-based nonprofit focused on gender inclusivity and student safety, more than 44% of transgender students in Oregon were reported being unable to use the bathroom aligned with their gender at school and more than 30% of transgender students reported being prevented at school from using their chosen name or pronouns. 

Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Lynne Terry for questions: [email protected]. Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.

Alex Baumhardt has been a national radio producer focusing on education for American Public Media since 2017. She has reported from the Arctic to the Antarctic for national and international media, and from Minnesota and Oregon for The Washington Post. She previously worked in Iceland and Qatar and was a Fulbright scholar in Spain where she earned a master's degree in digital media. She's been a kayaking guide in Alaska, farmed on four continents and worked the night shift at several bakeries to support her reporting along the way.