by Adam Brooks

The Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) released an 11-page set of guidelines for public schools’ treatment of transgender students. The comprehensive guidelines cover everything from restroom and locker room issues to how faculty should speak with parents and guardians of trans students. Some key policies include calling a student by their preferred name, regardless of whether it’s been legally changed or not, and encouraging schools to allow transgender students to use the facilities that correspond with their gender identity. It stresses that other students’ discomfort should never be a reason to deny access to a transgender student. School faculty are expected to work with the students to “foster an understanding of gender identity and create a school culture that respects and values all students.”RIDE strongly suggests that, when renovating or building new schools, gender-neutral restrooms and changing facilities should be considered. RIDE has described best practices in striving toward acceptance of students regardless of how they identify, but individual school districts maintain the authority to decide which policies work best for them. The Rhode Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) commended RIDE on providing an immensely helpful tool in protecting transgender rights within the school system. “All students deserve a supportive and non-discriminatory educational environment, and adoption of this guidance will go a long way in promoting and codifying this goal,”saidRI ACLU Executive Director Steven Brown. “Treating transgender students with dignity and respect is both required under the law and the right thing to do.” Brown went on to say that it’s been at least a year and a half since the state appointed a committee to look into transgender policy and that now is the time to adopt a statewide policy. While RIDE’s guidelines have received much praise, they have been met with some criticism as well. Mike Stenhouse, CEO of the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity, a conservative policy-making group, said RIDE has created a “one-size-fits-all position that may not be compatible with the morals held by many public school families.”