Parents across Massachusetts are upset over new rules that would not only allow transgender students to use their restrooms of their choice – but would also punish students who refuse to affirm or support their transgender classmates.
Last week the Massachusetts Department of Education issued directives for handling transgender students – including allowing them to use the bathrooms of their choice or to play on sports teams that correspond to the gender with which they identify.
The 11-page directive also urged schools to eliminate gender-based clothing and gender-based activities – like having boys and girls line up separately to leave the classroom.
Schools will now be required to accept a student’s gender identity on face value.
“A student who says she is a girl and wishes to be regarded that way throughout the school day and throughout every, or almost every, other area of her life, should be respected and treated like a girl,” the guidelines stipulate.
According to the Dept. of Education, transgender students are those whose assigned birth sex does not match their “internalized sense of their gender.”
They said gender nonconforming students “range in the ways in which they identify as male, female, some combination of both, or neither.”
“The responsibility for determining a student’s gender identity rests with the student,” the guidelines dictate. “One’s gender identity is an innate, largely inflexible characteristic of each individual’s personality that is generally established by age four…As a result, the person best situated to determine a student’s gender identity is that student himself or herself.”
The new rules would also prevent teachers and administrators from telling parents with which gender their child identifies.
“School personnel should speak with the student first before discussing a student’s gender nonconformity or transgender status with the student’s parent or guardian,” the directive states.
The guidelines were issued at the request of the state board of education to help schools follow the 2011 anti-discrimination law protecting transgender students.
“These students, because of widespread misunderstanding and lack of knowledge about their lives, are at a higher risk for peer ostracism, victimization, and bullying, the document read.
The Massachusetts Family Institute denounced the new rules calling them a violation of privacy.
“Fundamentally, boys need to be using the boys’ room and girls need to be using the girls’ rooms, and we base that on their anatomical sex, not some sort of internalized gender identity,” said Andrew Beckwith, the institute’s general counsel.
Beckwith told Fox News the new policy has a “very broad standard that is ripe for abuse.”
“The policy allows students to have one gender identity at home and another at school,” he said. “And it refuses to let teachers and administrators tell parents what gender their child is at school.”
Another part of the directive that troubles parents deals with students who might feel comfortable having someone of the opposite sex in their locker room or bathroom.
The state takes those students to task – noting their discomfort “is not a reason to deny access to the transgender student.”
And any student who refuses to refer to a transgendered student by the name or sex they identify with could face punishment.
For example – a fifth grade girl might feel uncomfortable using the restroom if there is an eighth grade transgendered boy in the next stall.
Under the state guidelines, the girl would have no recourse, Beckwith said.
“And if the girl continued to complain she could be subjected to discipline for not affirming that student’s gender identity choice,” he told Fox News.
“It should not be tolerated and can be grounds for student discipline,” the directive states.
Gunner Scott, of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, praised the directive – and said punishing students who refuse to acknowledge a student’s gender identity is appropriate because it amounts to bullying.
“The reality is that it’s about creating an inclusive environment for all students to learn,” Scott said.
But many parents disagreed and said the directive actually gives transgendered students more rights and privileges than other students.
“It doesn’t treat all students the same,” said Bill Gillmeister, of Brookfield, Mass. “It has a greater preference to gender-identifying children. That concerns me a great deal.”
Gillmeister told Fox News he has a son and daughter in high school. He also serves as a school committeeman.
He wondered about safety and fairness – especially when it comes to athletics. Under the new rules transgendered students will be allowed to play on either boys or girls teams.
“What about the girl who loses a spot on that basketball team because a boy is able to play as a girl,” Gillmeister wondered.
He worried about boys going into the girls locker rooms and vice versa.
“As a father of a daughter who might be playing sports, that concerns me greatly,” he said. “My daughter would likely not play a sport that she would otherwise play if she knew there was a potential for a boy to walk into the girl’s locker room.”
Gillmeister predicted no matter what happens – there will be lawsuits.
“It will either be the girl who didn’t get a seat on the basketball team because some boy got it or some boy who wanted to use the girls’ room but was denied access,” he said.
Beckwith and others say the education department is using a loophole in the anti-discrimination law to create a “stealth bathroom bill.”
“It’s affecting students as young as kindergarten,” he said.
The directive also calls on schools to implement gender neutral clothing rules.
“For example, some schools require students to wear gender-based garb for graduation or have gender-based dress codes for prom, special events and daily attire,” the directive states. “Schools should eliminate gendered policies and practices such as these.”
They pointed out on school that changed its dress code for the National Honor Society. The new policy does not require girls to wear dresses.
They also instructed schools to stop lining up students based on gender. Instead, they recommended lining up students using their birthdays or alphabetically.
Beckwith said it seems like Massachusetts is trying to create gender-neutral schools.
“They’re encouraging schools to eliminate all gender based distinctions,” he said.
With reporting from Associated Press