The Minnesota Department of Education will be providing schools with the "tools" to support transgender and gender-nonconforming students.
The School Safety Technical Assistance Council, the department's advisory council on bullying prevention and intervention efforts, voted last week to approve the dissemination of formal guidance to Minnesota's public and charter schools for creating inclusive environments for transgender and gender-nonconforming students.
Titled "A Toolkit for Ensuring Safe and Supportive Schools for Transgender and Gender-Nonconforming Students," the document proposes establishing and amending school policies that prevent barriers to participation. It seeks to prevent and address discrimination through a restructure of standard practices by school leaders and staff.
“Transgender and gender-nonconforming students face harassment, bullying and feel unsafe at alarmingly high rates," Brenda Cassellius, Minnesota's Education Commissioner, said. "The resources in this toolkit can help districts create welcoming, safe and supportive environments for all students to learn."
The 11-page "toolkit" includes guidelines for the use of proper pronouns and preferred names — suggesting that teachers stop using the term "boys and girls," and instead use "students" and "scholars" — and tackles the hot-button issue of access to restrooms and locker rooms that correspond with a student's gender identity. Authors propose single-user restrooms be available for any students who do not want to share a restroom with transgender and gender-nonconforming students.
The decision to approve dissemination of formal guidance comes at a time when advocacy groups are demanding that state education officials protect the rights of transgender students. Following President's Trump withdrawal of Obama-era federal guidelines in February, states like Texas have pushed forward so-called "bathroom bills" that restrict access to facilities for transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals.
Stephani Liesmaki, communications director for the Minnesota Family Council, a conservative Christian coalition, said the toolkit makes "broad-sweeping recommendations" that threaten parental rights and bodily privacy.
"Predominantly, the toolkit considers only the perspective of gender-nonconforming students, and dismisses and ignores [the] concerns of other students and parents, and includes veiled threats," Liesmaki said.
The council introduced a first draft of the toolkit during a meeting in May, and posted a subsequent draft on its website in June following public comment. Within the draft, authors explain that their recommendations are non-binding and include links to federal and state law.
Kevin Lindsey, commissioner of Minnesota's Department of Human Rights, said he hopes the toolkit inspires broader community engagement and support.
“Schools that want to develop policies for transgender and gender-nonconforming students now have a resource to work with their local stakeholders to create safe learning environments for all students free from discrimination and harassment," Lindsey said.
Other recommendations in the toolkit include supporting a family through a student's transition, with references to The Gender Spectrum's "Student Gender Transition Plan," and nominating "prom ambassadors" and "homecoming royalty" in place of prom or homecoming king and queen.